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Immigration reform: House GOP consensus is to do something – but later

House Republicans emerged from a strategy session on immigration reform saying something needed to be done but seeming content to shelve the issue until the fall. What to do is still an issue.

By Staff Writer / July 10, 2013

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., speaks with reporters after House Republicans worked on an approach to immigration reform in a closed-door meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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Washington

House Republicans emerging Wednesday from a two-hour, closed-door, conference-wide strategy session on Capitol Hill’s most pressing subject, immigration reform, said there was agreement that they would continue to work on the issue, but not nearly at the pace sought by the White House or the Senate.

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Seeming content to shelve the issue until the fall session, the Republican lawmakers said the solution they eventually would craft would come in smaller legislative chunks and carry deeper conservative influence than the Senate’s comprehensive bill that passed with bipartisan support at the end of June.

The lawmakers also stressed that beefed up border security and interior immigration enforcement measures would have to come before any legalization for any group among the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

But the Republicans, who heard presentations from Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, stressed nevertheless that there was broad agreement that something should be done.

“There was a consensus that people want to do something about this issue, that this issue has been on the table for too long,” says Rep. Lou Barletta (R) of Pennsylvania, an immigration hardliner. “There’s an overwhelming agreement that we do border security first and then do everything else.”

But whatever package the Republicans craft, it just won’t come as fast as the White House or Senate immigration reformers want.

It’s “100 percent unlikely” that the House will move immigration legislation before the August recess, says Rep. John Fleming (R) of Louisiana.

“We want to keep forward motion, but we don’t feel like we have to pass something in the next few weeks,” Representative Fleming says. “We’re going to go back home and talk to our constituents in August.”

Republicans are facing a tortuous path to actually passing immigration legislation, however.

On the one hand, they don’t want to allow inaction to give any leverage to President Obama and the majority Democrat Senate.

“If we don’t pass anything, that’s just going to let the Senate dominate, and that’s just not a good policy,” says Doug Lamborn (R) of Colorado.

But on the other, Republicans need time to figure out what, exactly, they support.

The House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees have passed a series of pieces of the immigration reform puzzle and roughly half the conference, according to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, have come to education sessions on immigration.

But beyond vague requirements of more and faster border security than the Senate bill envisions, Republicans were clear that there was little attempt to find a consensus on policy Wednesday. After the presentations by Speaker Boehner and Congressman Ryan, several dozen lawmakers rose to address their colleagues for all of 90 seconds each.

Left unanswered in the half-dozen bills Republicans have passed so far is whether the nation’s undocumented population will be allowed some way to adjust their legal status. A so-called pathway to citizenship for those in the US illegally is an absolute must-have for Democrats and Mr. Obama.  

“If the House group has a pathway to citizenship even if it’s different than ours, it may be more stringent, we can look at that,” says Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, “but without a path to citizenship, I don’t see how you get anywhere, in the House or in Congress.”

Republicans may still get to some form of legalization, says Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho, but there’s no consensus on the matter as of yet. “That’s something that will be hard to get to, but I can see us getting there,” he says.

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