By Stephen Dinan-The Washington Times
WASHINGTON D.C. – House Republican leaders have ruled out a special pathway to citizenship but do support granting some form of legal status and work permits to most illegal immigrants, according to the broad set of principles GOP leaders released Thursday that pushed the issue back to the political forefront.
The brief document, circulated to House Republicans who are holding their annual policy retreat in Maryland, calls for giving young illegal immigrants — known as Dreamers — a chance at citizenship. Republican leaders also said they will insist on a “zero tolerance policy” for future illegal immigrants and will revamp the system to make it easier for businesses to hire foreign workers legally but tougher for immigrants to bring their extended families into the U.S.
Behind the principles, though, are many unanswered questions, such as whether illegal immigrants would be granted any legal status before border security is improved and who exactly would be eligible.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters that his party’s leaders thought they had to make a good-faith offer.
“This problem’s been around for at least the last 15 years. It’s been turned into a political football. I think it’s unfair. So I think it’s time to deal with it,” he said Thursday morning before meeting with his colleagues. “But how we deal with it is critically important.”
The principles were met with anger from the right. Conservative groups said Republicans were squandering electoral chances by broaching the issue and warned that voters would stay home rather than support a party that embraces “amnesty.”
Democrats and immigrant rights groups were more encouraging. They said they disagreed with some of the principles but Republican leaders’ signal that they were ready to negotiate opened the door to a slim possibility that a final deal could be reached this year.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been working for years to try to pass an immigration reform bill, said the principles released Thursday show a major shift from where the Republican Party was in 2012 with presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“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. “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.”
Election Day 2012 was a critical moment in the debate. President Obama won re-election partly because of strong support from Hispanics, many of whom said they were turned off by what they considered anti-immigrant rhetoric from Republicans.
After election defeats, many Republican strategists said their party needed to embrace legalization of illegal immigrants as a way to make inroads with Hispanics, who represent a growing percentage of the voting population.
Not everyone agrees.
An analysis from the Eagle Forum, a group run by conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, argues that adding immigrants will doom the Republican Party.