House GOP Raises Hope for Immigration Reform

The Fiscal Times

The White House and Senate are so eager for a deal on immigration reform that just about anything of a positive nature coming out of the House likely would be welcome with open arms.

The news that Speaker John Boehner and other House GOP leaders are willing to consider granting legal status to many of the 11 million illegal immigrants as part of a package of reforms largely aimed at beefing up border security and enforcement is getting a relatively giddy response from Senate Democrats, the White House and some immigration reform advocates.

Related: Illegal Immigration Debate Splits the GOP Yet Again 

The House Republican leaders said for the first time on Thursday that they would allow illegal immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S. under certain conditions – including admitting their culpability and paying significant fines and back taxes -- but that most would not be offered a “special path” to citizenship.” 

Obama in an interview with CNN hours before the House GOP document was released at a Republican retreat in Cambridge, MD, said: “I actually think we have a good chance of getting immigration reform.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a co-author of the Senate-passed bipartisan immigration reform law last year, said, “While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave real possibility that Democrats and Republicans . . . can in some way come together and pass immigration reform. It is a long, hard road but the door is open.” 

Others who have been working in the trenches for years in search of a breakthrough over immigration reform shared in Schumer’s optimism. Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation of small business owners working to advance better immigration law, declared the House Republican principles “a historic breakthrough” and critical first step in achieving a compromise.

Related: Obama’s Immigration Sop to Silicon Valley

Jacoby told The Fiscal Times on Friday that House Republicans historically have opposed efforts at immigration reform, dating back to the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.  

“There’s still a long process ahead, she added. “But if the Republicans can get to a place where they can put this on the table and make that offer, Democrats will eventually accept it…. Democrats are not going to be open to the accusation that they were the ones who blocked people from being free of fear.” 

Frank Sharry, executive director of the advocacy group America’s Voice, told the Washington Post his group and most Democrats oppose creating a “permanent underclass” of non-citizens. However, Sharry said they might go along with legislation that allowed many immigrants to obtain some form of legal status and “most of them to achieve citizenship through “normal channels.”

Between 4.4 million and 6.5 million immigrants illegally in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under proposals being discussed by Republicans in the House, according to an estimate published Tuesday by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan research group.

Related: An Illegal Immigrant’s Guide to the U.S. Congress

The comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last year offers a lengthy and challenging pathway to citizenship for many illegal immigrants, but House Republicans have dismissed that approach out of hand. Some reform advocates who have held out for a path to citizenship now are considering the House GOP approach as potentially an acceptable “half a loaf.”  

But the House GOP leadership plan is not going down well with many conservative lawmakers.  The New York Times reported that many far right Republicans rejected the one-page “standards for immigration reform” outright, and others said this was not the time for a highly divisive legislative initiative heading into a crucial election year with the control of the Senate at stake.

“One of the root challenges is the lack of trust in President Obama and Senator [Harry] Reid,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said after the House GOP discussion. “It’s a shame because we agree perhaps on most of the issues, but getting past the basic hurdle of who we can work with is hard.” 

 Here is a summary of the House GOP principles of immigration reform:

  • Preamble -- Our nation’s immigration system is broken and our laws are not being enforced.” But these serious problems in the immigration system “cannot be solved with a single, massive piece of legislation that few have read and even fewer understand.” 
  • Border Security and Interior Enforcement -- We must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure. In addition, we must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future.  
  • Implement Entry-Exit Visa Tracking System – The government must implement a fully functioning Entry-Exit system using technology to verify identity and prevent fraud.  
  • Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement -- In the 21st century it is unacceptable that the majority of employees have their work eligibility verified through a paper based system wrought with fraud. It is past time for this country to fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system.
  • Reforms to the Legal Immigration System -- The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry. 
  • Youth -- It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that.
  • Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law -- There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws – that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law.

Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program.

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