WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives is close to introducing its own immigration bill, which would grant legal status to many of the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants but _ in a significant departure from similar proposals in the White House and Senate _ isn’t expected to include new paths to citizenship, according to those involved in the discussions.
The House proposal likely will stoke the already volatile debate on immigration as many Democrats – including President Barack Obama – immigrants’ advocates and union leaders have staked their ground on a path to citizenship being essential to any compromise.
Under the anticipated House proposal, no one would be barred permanently from citizenship, but they’d be eligible only via pathways that already are available to any other immigrants, including marriage, family or employment-based sponsorships.
“I will argue until my last breath for a pathway to citizenship that is quick and efficient because I want to end this chapter. I want to end it,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who’s among the House’s most outspoken advocates for immigrants. The goal, he said, is to have no permanent underclass.
“But let me say, conversely, I am as committed as any Republican to ending illegal immigration as we know it,” he added. “They want to end it. So do I.”
Neither Gutierrez nor any other member of the bipartisan group would confirm his or her involvement in the House team. But those aware of the discussion say he’s among a group of four Democrats and four Republicans, some of whom have been meeting secretly for years, who are working to craft a bipartisan immigration plan that they think could pass the more conservative chamber of Congress.
Other members include Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Raul Labrador of Idaho, John Carter and Sam Johnson, both of Texas, and Democrats John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren, both of California.
Their proposed legislation, like the White House and Senate proposals, would beef up border security, establish a nationwide system to verify the legal status of workers, punish businesses that hire illegal immigrants and allow more agricultural and highly skilled immigrant workers to stay in the country.
Members of the House bipartisan team hope to release the bill within three weeks, possibly before the Senate legislation, which is scheduled to be delivered at the end of the month, according to officials familiar with the team’s proposal.
Working in secret has been a necessity, considering the high stakes. The Republican-led House is seen as the greatest obstacle to a comprehensive overhaul. Many conservative House members continue to liken a path to citizenship to “amnesty,” and they find it an affront to the principles of the rule of law.
On the other side of the issue, many advocates responded in outrage last month after the Senate bipartisan team introduced its own proposal, which would offer a path to citizenship only after an independent assessment determined that the nation’s borders were secure.
Several immigrant rights groups, including the National Council of La Raza and the National Immigration Law Center, urged Obama to reject that aspect of the Senate proposal, which would more than likely be seen as more sympathetic than the House version.