The document, which was provided to House leaders during the conference’s annual policy retreat here, outlines how party leaders wish to proceed on the issue to craft legislation to overhaul the immigration system.
Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team introduced the principles. In the private meeting where the language was introduced, Boehner (R-Ohio) told Republicans that the standards are “as far as we are willing to go.”
Top Republicans circulated a tightly held one-page titled “standards for immigration reform” toward the tail end of a day that include strategy conversations about Obamacare, the economy and the national debt.
“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,” the document reads. “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.”
Though the Republican principles say there will be no "special" path to citizenship, they also are not explicitly saying that immigrants cannot apply for citizenship eventually. That is not dissimilar from the Senate's plan, which would allow immigrants to apply for temporary legal status and, eventually, a green card. Green card holders can apply for citizenship after five years.
The “standards” document goes on to say that none of those reforms for unlawful immigrants can occur until “specific enforcement triggers have been implemented.” Concerning children brought to the U.S. illegally, House Republican leaders recommend offering citizenship “for those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree.”
The document also calls for massive increases in border security and enforcement and “a zero tolerance policy” for those who enter the country illegally or overstay a visa. House leaders also call for a federal employment verification system as part of the standards, an “entry-exit visa tracking system” and an increase in the number of high-skilled workers allowed in the United States.
House Republicans are under significant pressure to act on immigration from President Barack Obama, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and a coalition of activists that span the political spectrum.
In a statement, New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of the lead authors of the Senate version of the bill, suggested that the standards document was a step in the right direction for supporters of immigration reform.
“While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept," Schumer said. "It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”
As a matter of process, House Republican leaders have vowed not to adopt an immigration overhaul package in a single, comprehensive bill. But they have indicated that they intend to pass bills piecemeal as they arrive from the House Judiciary Committee.
House Republicans plan to discuss the principles during closed meetings at the retreat, and leaders hope to move closer to a consensus on the issue by week’s end. “It’s time to deal with” immigration, Boehner told reporters before meeting with House members on Thursday. “But how we deal with it is going to be critically important.”