House Republicans back legal status for undocumented immigrants

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R), R-Ohio, speaks during the House Republican Leadership press conference at the House Republican Issues Conference in Cambridge, Maryland, January 30, 2014, with Majority Leader US Congressman Eric Cantor (C), R-Virginia, and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images) JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

House Republicans indicate they could allow immigrants living in the U.S. without permission to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.,” as long as specific “triggers” to improve enforcement of immigration laws are in place first, according to a draft set of principles released Thursday during the GOP’s retreat in Maryland.

“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. 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),” the document states in a section entitled, “individuals living outside the rule of the law.”

What they do not say explicitly is whether immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally would ever be allowed to seek citizenship, though they also do not bar anything that is not a "special path."

The offer of legal status would exclude criminals, gang members and sex offenders, as well as anyone who could fulfill the list of conditions laid out by new legislation. “None of this can happen 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,” they write.

In addition, the GOP called for the opportunity for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to gain legal residence and citizenship by meeting certain eligibility standards, serving in the military or seeking a college degree. If written into law, these principles would make permanent the policy ofdeferred deportation for younger immigrants that Mr. Obama created by executive order in 2012.

The principles also call for more border security and interior enforcement, followed by “zero tolerance” for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future, a fully functional entry-exit system and a workable employment verification system. On top of that, the GOP will seek “reform that ensures that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement.” 

To improve the existing legal immigration system, Republicans would rewrite the laws to emphasize employment-based over family-based immigration, and create a temporary worker program that meets the needs of industries like agriculture and does not displace or disadvantage American workers.

A preface to the principles document reiterates a promise by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that the House will not go to conference with the Senate over the massive piece of legislation passed by the upper chamber in June.

“The problems in our immigration system must be solved through a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures,” it says.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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