US Republicans will lay out principles on immigration policy this week at a party retreat, as they debate whether to address the lightning-rod issue ahead of November’s congressional elections.
On the day after President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union speech, the 232 Republicans in the House of Representatives will seclude themselves at a resort on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to thrash out policy guidelines for 2014.
“On Thursday… we’re going to outline our standards, principles of immigration reform and have a conversation with our members,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday.
“Once that conversation is over, we’ll get a better feel for what members have in mind.”
The debate comes as congressional aides acknowledge that some Republicans will push for an overhaul of the country’s outdated immigration laws that includes a pathway to legal status for many of the 11 million people living in the shadows.
The aides told The New York Times that the party’s proposal would stop short of extending citizenship to adults illegally in the United States, although Republicans would back a path to citizenship for those illegally brought to the country as children.
Republican leaders have acknowledged the need for immigration reform, citing the party’s low support among a growing Hispanic community.
But they have stressed they will proceed piecemeal rather than allowing a single grand reform bill to pass, while passing separate laws to address issues like improving border security.
They are also sensitive to concerns raised by party conservatives that legalizing undocumented immigrants is akin to amnesty.
“House leadership is about to roll out a set of immigration principles reportedly including an amnesty for illegal aliens, and presumably will follow up with a push to pass them through the House,” the prominent conservative journal the National Review wrote.
“The correct course is easy and eminently achievable: Do nothing” on immigration, the Review said, and instead focus on battling against Obama’s troubled health care reform law.
Last year’s landmark bipartisan Senate bill offered the most comprehensive immigration overhaul in a generation, boosting border security, reforming visa rules and providing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions.
But the Republican-led House refused to take it up, despite calls from some business groups, which lean Republican but support immigration reform as a way to boost the economy.
Experts envision the legalization debate as central to any deal.
“More and more political players are recognizing that the legal status issue is going to have to be resolved through some compromise,” Doris Meissner of Migration Policy Institute told AFP.
Republican Senator John McCain, a member of the “Gang of Eight” lawmakers who crafted the Senate bill, said he would withhold judgment on House movements until they unveil legislation.
“But I’m encouraged, greatly encouraged, to hear… that in some aspects of this issue they’re moving forward,” McCain said.
Not everyone is as pleased. Republican John Carter, one of the eight House members who tried to craft their own bipartisan overhaul, said pressing ahead with immigration reform is bad politics in an election year.
“Immigration is a very, very contentious issue,” he told Roll Call newspaper.
With many rank-and-file Republicans and Tea Party-backed conservatives showing little flexibility, Meissner said it was up to party leaders “to press the idea that elections for them in the future are connected to resolving this dilemma about immigration.”
But she also suggested immigration reform inaction would hurt Republicans more during the 2016 presidential election than this year.
“Some political strategists would argue that in the 2014 election it is actually against the interests of Republicans to resolve the immigration issue because many of their voting districts are opposed to immigration reform,” Meissner said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]