WASHINGTON – The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Sunday that any attempt at comprehensive immigration legislation cannot offer a “special pathway to citizenship” for those in the United States illegally.
That approach could block the GOP’s hopes of ever winning the White House, the top Democrat in the House predicted.
With last week’s Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration bill, the emotionally heated and politically perilous debate is now heading to the Republican-led House, where conservative incumbents could face primary challenges if they appear too lenient on the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said he does not foresee a proposal that could provide a simple mechanism for immigrants here illegally to earn full standing as U.S. citizens, as many Democrats have demanded. Goodlatte’s committee members have been working on bills that address individual concerns but have not written a comprehensive proposal to match the Senate’s effort.
The House answer would not be “a special pathway to citizenship where people who are here unlawfully get something that people who have worked for decades to immigrate lawfully do not have,” he said.
A pathway to legal standing, similar to immigrants who have green cards, could be an option, he said.
That approach, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, would bring electoral doom for Republicans looking to take back the White House in the 2016 elections. Republicans, she advised, should follow the Senate lead “if they ever want to win a presidential race.”
In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian-American voters. A thwarted immigration overhaul could again send those voting blocs to Democrats’ side.
The Senate bill would provide a long and difficult pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally, as well as tough measures to secure the border. Conservatives have stood opposed to any pathway to full citizenship for those workers, and House lawmakers have urged a piecemeal approach to the thorny issue instead of the Senate’s sweeping effort.
Illustrating the strong opposition among conservative lawmakers in the House, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said flatly: “The Senate bill is not going to pass.”
Bowing to those pressures, House Republicans have said they would consider each piece of immigration legislation separately as they tried to navigate the politically dicey subject that could complicate not only their efforts to reclaim the White House, but also thwart some incumbent GOP lawmakers’ attempt to win re-election.
House Speaker John Boehner has ruled out taking up the Senate bill and said the Republican-controlled chamber would chart its own version of the legislation with a focus on border security.
In the Democratic-controlled Senate, 14 Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, joined all Democratic senators and independents, including Maine Sen. Angus King, in the 68-32 vote.
Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and an author of the current Senate immigration bill, nodded to the politics. “Republicans realize the implications of the future of the Republican Party in America if we don’t get this issue behind us,” he said.