Cambridge (United States) (AFP) – Republican lawmakers endorsed in principle the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants on Thursday, but stopped short of backing a pathway to citizenship.
The majority party in the House of Representatives did, however, specify that it backs opportunities for young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents to become U.S. citizens.
Most experts agree the Republicans’ low level of support among voters of recent immigrant stock cost their candidates badly in recent elections, and the party is under pressure to reach out.
But many within the party ranks fear that passing legislation to help regularize the situation of millions of undocumented migrants could hurt them with voters from their white conservative base.
At a retreat for Republican representatives under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner to set priorities ahead of November’s mid-term elections, members drew up an outline approach.
“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,” said the draft, obtained by reporters.
The draft said such immigrants “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.”
The one-page “Standards of Immigration Reform” is a only Republican messaging document in a mid-term election year.
But it may also represent the beginning of a thaw in a contentious issue of a deeply divided Congress.
The principles call for improved border security and revamping the country’s outdated visa and employment verification programs.
But it still leaves House Republicans at odds with President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate.
The upper chamber last year passed a bipartisan immigration bill that included a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million people in the United States living in the shadows.
Boehner assured members behind closed doors that the House would not take up “or engage in negotiations with the Senate” on that measure, but stressed that step-by-step reform was important.