Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim, Politico, January 15, 2014
House Republican leaders are within weeks of releasing their principles for immigration reform — a blueprint that will detail positions on everything from border security to legal status.
The document, which has been kept under wraps until now, will call for beefed-up border security and interior enforcement, a worker verification system for employers and earned legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions. It will also call for reforms to visa programs and a system to track those in the country legally.
The draft principles will also include a promise that immigration reform will be done on a step-by-step basis and will foreclose the possibility of entering into conference negotiations using the Senate’s comprehensive package — pledges that could soothe some Republicans.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is driving the process, wants these principles released before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union on Jan. 28.
The secret talks are taking place even as leaders doubt that such efforts will be fruitful, in part because of opposition from conservatives who sank the prospects for reform last year. That dynamic hasn’t changed. But Republicans think stating their position is important and could help chart a path forward for reform in 2015 after the midterm elections.
The most recent set of principles was discussed Wednesday morning during a meeting of Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.
House committees several months ago cleared five separate bills to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Those pieces have not moved to the floor. None of them deal with the most complicated issue of reform: what to do with the millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Trading legalization for an uptick in state and local enforcement — as some Republicans are discussing — will most likely be met with skepticism by Democrats. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) passed legislation calling for that last summer, but Democrats vehemently rejected the bill, arguing that it would criminalize millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country.
There could be some ways to make the provision more palatable for Democrats. For example, Congress could empower state and local law enforcement officials only after current undocumented immigrants start their legalization process. This would put the focus on future illegal immigration.
Key senators who drafted a sweeping immigration bill and have been talking with House Republicans since their legislation passed last June are optimistic on the chances that the lower chamber will move forward.
“I get the sense that there’s a mood that is at least open to options,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose former chief of staff, Becky Tallent, is now Boehner’s top immigration aide. “Part of it is the business community, part of it is the evangelicals, part of it’s organized labor. It’s the largest coalition ever behind any piece of legislation.”