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What will the House do on immigration reform?

For some conservative House Republicans, immigration reform is the strange uncle that drops by for a surprise visit: No one invited him, and everyone wants to get him out the door.

Worst of all, nobody's quite sure what to do with him while he's here.

Senate passes immigration overhaul with bipar... 02:04

When a broad bipartisan majority of senators passed a comprehensive immigration bill last week, they handed a series of uncomfortable questions to Republicans in the lower chamber, who have voiced problems with nearly every provision in the Senate bill. They believe there's not enough of a guarantee on border security. They worry an influx of foreign labor will depress wages and crowd the domestic job market. Many fundamentally object to the idea of extending a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

Given those objections, as Congress returns from its Fourth of July break next week, how will House Republicans react to the hot potato that's just been dropped in their lap? If they won't pass the Senate bill, but they still hope to forge an agreement with the upper chamber, which proposals will be watered down or amped up? And what might those alterations mean for the bill's future?

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is fond of saying that the House will "work its will." But where immigration is concerned, the will of the House remains murky at best.

The Senate bill allocated billions of dollars in additional technology and manpower for the Border Patrol, and it required the full implementation of new border security measures before undocumented immigrants could begin traveling the path to citizenship, a proposal hailed by some conservatives who have demanded border security as a precondition of broader reform efforts.

Some, however, objected to the bill's immediate provision of an interim legal status to undocumented immigrants as they await their green cards and an eventual path to citizenship.

Boehner: House will not pass Senate immigrati... 01:38
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"The Senate bill gives amnesty first and then says let's work on border security," said Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., according to the Sun Sentinel. "What I would like to do is see our border secured first and then work on a different paths for the 11 million that are here and, more importantly, reform our legal immigration system."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told Bloomberg News that while the Senate bill amps up border security, "none of that will take place until [undocumented immigrants have] already been given the legal status."

"The legal status comes immediately, and we think that most people who are not here legally, that's the main thing they want," he explained. "They want to have a legal status here, and that's a worthwhile objective, but we think it shouldn't happen until you have the assurance that we're not going to have another wave of illegal immigration occur ahead of time."

At a news conference the day the Senate passed its bill, Boehner said any immigration reform that passes the House must be "grounded" in a guarantee of border security. "People have to have confidence that the border secure before anything else is really going to work," he said.

To assuage concerns among conservatives, House lawmakers may insist on a more stringent set of triggers and refuse to provide an interim legal status - let alone a green card or a path to citizenship - to undocumented immigrants until the federal government fully secures the border.

During the Senate debate, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, offered an amendment that would have instituted that additional threshold. It was broadly supported by conservatives but ultimately voted down by Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Whether the Senate would be willing to revisit that fight in conference with the House remains to be seen.

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Perhaps a more vexing problem, many House Republicans object to the very idea of providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They argue that citizenship is too great a privilege to confer on people who came here illegally, that it would encourage further illegal immigration, and that it would send the wrong message to those immigrants who followed the rules.

"I object" to a pathway to citizenship, Goodlatte told Bloomberg News, "because that pathway to citizenship is something that people who have gone through the process legally do not have the opportunity to have, and people who come here illegally get that special pathway to citizenship."

Goodlatte pitched a path to legality, not citizenship, that would give undocumented immigrants "many opportunities" while avoiding the impropriety of rewarding people who cut the line.

After border security and employment enforcement measures are implemented, undocumented immigrants would "get only a legal status," Goodlatte said, "It would give them many, many opportunities, but it wouldn't give them something that people who have historically immigrated to the country legally don't have, and I don't think they should have either."

Boehner has not tipped his cards on the likelihood of a House bill including a path to citizenship, saying he does not want to prejudice or impede the legislative mechanics underway.

If Goodlatte has his way, the House and the Senate are likely headed for a collision course. Supporters of the Senate bill have warned that immigration reform without a path to citizenship will not pass Congress. Many immigration reform advocates, already leery of the border security measures in the Senate proposal, have warned against any further changes viewed as hostile to immigrants.

If lawmakers can't bridge the divide over a path to citizenship, someone has to give, or the process falls apart.

In the end, the most consequential outstanding question is how far Boehner will go in accommodating the concerns of his base as the House crafts its immigration bill. If he reaches a point at which he believes the House has moved too far away from the Senate's proposal, he will face a choice: He could risk torpedoing the reform process entirely by passing a conservative bill on a party-line vote that would likely die in conference with the Senate. Or he could move a comprehensive bill to the floor of the House for a vote, even without the support of a majority of Republicans, potentially inviting a conservative insurrection.

Several House Republicans have already threatened to depose Boehner if he schedules a vote on an immigration bill without the approval of a majority of his conference. And thus far, Boehner has given no indication that he plans to move a bill without his troops behind him. "I don't see any way of bringing an immigration reform bill to the floor that doesn't have the majority support of Republicans," he told reporters in June.

Still, Boehner bristled at the suggestion that he would make any legislative decision based on a concern for his own political future. "I didn't come here to be Speaker because I needed a fancy title and a big office," he said. "I wanted to be Speaker so I could do something on behalf of the country."

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