Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have drafted their principles on immigration reform, and they just went public.
Supporters of immigration reform in both parties say they want to see a bill, but they are cautiously hopeful that the principles could be the first step toward a plan that can reach the president's desk.
Although the document specifically opposes a “special path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, it does endorse granting them legal status if they can “admit culpability,” pass background checks, learn English, pay back taxes and support themselves financially.
And it doesn’t specifically rule out undocumented immigrants from earning citizenship in the future.
The plan would also allow young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to earn citizenship, if they pursue a college degree or serve in the military.
But none of that can happen before a series of border security benchmarks are met. Of course, those requirements aren’t spelled out explicitly in the document, which broadly outlines party objectives.
Immigrants can’t legalize “before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced,” the document reads.
House Republicans will debate the principles behind closed doors, and they could run into heavy resistance from conservative members who oppose so-called “amnesty” for the undocumented. They also offer no guarantee that the GOP will pursue legislation.
Regardless, they represent a significant step forward for a party whose 2012 presidential nominee embraced “self-deportation” to deal with the documented population.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the architects of the immigration bill that passed in the Senate this June, sounded a note of optimism in a statement reacting to the GOP principles.
“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,” he said. “It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”
But the principles didn’t impress an influential figure in the immigration debate, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who called it “a flimsy document that only serves to underscore the callous attitude Republicans have toward our nation’s immigrants.”
“Republicans not only reject citizenship but embrace a broken guest worker model that will bring down wages and increase income inequality,” Trumka said in a statement.
Frank Sharry, the head of the pro-immigration reform organization America’s Voice, released a statement to “welcome the House Republicans to the immigration debate.”
“We are encouraged that Republicans are gearing up to take action and glad they acknowledge that immigration reform has to include the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America,” he said. “Now it’s time for them to translate these vague principles into a legislative proposal.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who has worked across the aisle in the House in an attempt to keep the legislative effort alive, praised Republicans for moving forward.
“We have gone from the Republicans saying 'self-deportation' and 'veto the DREAM Act,' to saying we need bipartisan solutions in just about a year,” he said in a statement. “And we have gone from some Democrats saying immigration is too difficult an issue to handle to saying we need bipartisan solutions in just a few years. We are now talking about how people stay and how they come legally, not how we kick out 11 million people and build a big moat around the country.”
Here’s how some immigration reporters reacted:
One Republican — Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) — roundly supported the principles.
Other GOPers weren’t happy to hear that their party was dabbling in “amnesty.”
Some advocates aren’t sold on the Republican principles, at least not yet.
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.