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Immigration reform: How is the House approaching it?

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives appeared divided on whether to provide immigrants living in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship following a closed door meeting Wednesday. 

By Thomas FerraroReuters, Rachelle YounglaiReuters / July 11, 2013

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, emerges from a closed-door meeting with House Republicans in Washington, Wednesday. The GOP leadership rejected the immigration bill passed by the Democratically controlled Senate and has not yet come up with a bill of its own.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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WASHINGTON

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives emerged from an immigration meeting on Wednesday divided over whether to help the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States, but eager to bolster border security.

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Several lawmakers said there appeared to be no consensus over calls for granting legal status to the 11 million, many of whom have lived in the United States for years, after a 2 1/2-hour closed-door session.

"We have a disagreement inside here," said Republican Representative Steve King, who guessed that his colleagues were split "50/50" on whether any of the undocumented residents should get legal status.

There will likely have to be an agreement between the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate, which last month approved a comprehensive immigration bill backed by the White House that includes a pathway to citizenship.

Backers of the Senate bill insist some sort of path to citizenship must be part of any final bill that they help send to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The Republican lawmakers said there was consensus that the U.S. border should be secured further against illegal crossings and suggested that House Speaker John Boehner could seek passage of such a bill as a first step toward a larger agreement.

Republican leaders issued a statement again rejecting a Senate-passed bill that puts the 11 million on a 13-year path to citizenship.

"It's hard not to be discouraged right now," said Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who helped write the Senate bill and served 12 years in the House.

The Senate bill removes the threat of deportation for most illegal residents, but features several hurdles to citizenship, including learning English, paying back taxes and passing criminal background checks. It authorizes $46 billion for border security and to revamp the visa system to help high-tech firms, farmers and other businesses hire foreign workers.

Obama and his fellow Democrats have been calling for prompt action by the House. Earlier on Wednesday, the president told a group of Hispanic lawmakers that he was willing to do whatever it takes to help enact a bill.

Even former President George W. Bush, who rarely wades into policy debates, gave a boost to efforts in Congress. While the two-term Republican president did not embrace any particular bill, he said he hoped there would be a "positive resolution."

Speaking in Dallas at a naturalization ceremony, Bush said, "We have a problem. The laws governing the immigration system aren't working. ... The system is broken."

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