A set of immigration principles from House Republicans don’t explicitly include a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants. But that doesn’t mean they will be banned from eventually becoming full-fledged citizens, according to a prominent GOP congressman.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), a key GOP player in the debate, said “it would be unacceptable” for immigrants to be precluded from seeking citizenship as long as they “get right with the law.”
“To have a prohibition from that I think would be really detrimental to the future of our country,” the congressman said in an interview with Fusion.
Immigrant-rights advocates have expressed concern that the Republican plan, which offers legal status to many of people without papers, could create millions of second-class citizens.
There's a reason activists are worried. GOP leaders have gone to lengths to assure the conservative base that their plan won’t reward undocumented immigrants with a “special pathway to citizenship.” Their blueprint would beef up border security and enforcement measures, and require certain security benchmarks to be met before immigrants can get legal status.
Some Republican lawmakers have discussed the possibility of allowing legalized immigrants to pursue citizenship, as long as they use pathways that exist under current law.
“You can get at the back of the line of the current system, that I think that is something which is acceptable to most people,” Diaz-Balart said.
But right now, those existing pathways are clogged up with years-long backlogs of visa applicants. And under current law, many undocumented immigrants would have to leave the U.S. for as long as 10 years before returning to seek legal residency, which could separate them from jobs and family.
The House principles do call for reforming the U.S. visa system, but Diaz-Balart would not reveal individual changes have been discussed by lawmakers.
“I can’t get into specifics,” he said. “But you do need to have a legal system that works.”
Diaz-Balart was among a group of eight bipartisan House lawmakers who attempted to craft a compromise immigration bill last year. That bill would have allowed undocumented immigrants to pursue citizenship, albeit through a more arduous path than the 13-year track offered under the Senate’s proposal.
The Florida lawmaker said elements of that legislation could be incorporated into future GOP immigration bills. But any action could be months away.
“I’d like to go forward as soon as possible, but I don’t think there’s clearly a consensus on that within our conference,” said Diaz-Balart.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.