With just a few months remaining in the congressional session, the most conservative faction of House Republicans remain adamantly opposed to immigration reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, making passage of the reforms increasingly unlikely this year.
A group of House conservatives that gathered Wednesday for a monthly roundtable with reporters appeared unified in opposition to the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, which pairs increased border security resources with instant legalization and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
“If you give a pathway to citizenship, then you give encouragement to the idea that if you just get here, then eventually you are going to be made legal,” border state Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said. “I do not think you can secure the border if you give the encouragement that if you get here, you can eventually be made legal.”
Conservative House Republicans have made it clear to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that they do not want him to bring the Senate immigration bill, or anything like it, to the floor for a vote. Boehner has promised to take up smaller bills that are more palatable to the GOP, which include border security and visa reforms and a measure that creates a program for immigrant farm workers.
Conservatives remain suspicious, however, that Boehner will cut a deal with senators and force a vote on a broader bill that can pass with mostly Democratic support in the House.
“What most Republicans are concerned about is having a conference committee and having the Senate bill jammed down our throats,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said.
Republican leaders hope to find a compromise by introducing legislation that would legalize children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, a measure some conservatives signaled Wednesday that they could support.
“I think there is broad support for doing something for children that were brought here,” Labrador said. “Yes, I think we can work with something like this.”
But Labrador and other conservatives are insisting on hard triggers that ensure the border is secure before anyone is legalized, even children.
Democrats are certain to balk at the requirement and it could become a sticking point in any negotiations.
The move to legalize children is not sitting well with Democrats, who want a much broader reform bill with the pathway to citizenship for everyone who is here illegally.
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., denounced the Democratic opposition to the GOP plan to legalize kids. Democrats for years have been pushing the “Dream Act,” which would provide a pathway to citizenship for people who unlawfully entered the United States as children.
“All of a sudden, these so-called defenders of these dreamers are throwing them under the bus because they don’t want to exploit them any more,” Schweikert told reporters.
Democrats say the GOP proposal doesn’t go far enough to reform the immigration system.