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House Republicans Start Crafting Their Own Immigration Bill


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

The push for a big rewrite of the nation's immigration laws has moved from one side of the Capitol to the other. Late last month, the Democratic-led Senate passed a sweeping immigration overhaul. Now it's up to the GOP-led House to act.

But House Republican leaders say they have no intention of even bringing up the Senate's bill. They'll come up with their own legislation. And they huddled this afternoon behind closed doors to hash out their immigration strategy. NPR's David Welna is at the Capitol where that meeting took place. Hi there, David.


CORNISH: So now that those House Republicans have met, is there any more clarity about what they're going to do?

WELNA: Well, not a whole lot. I think this meeting was really about letting members vent mainly against the Senate bill, which most House Republicans seem to hate, and each of them had 90 seconds to do so. A lot of these GOP lawmakers were back in their districts last week, and they got an earful from constituents, they say, who told them to get tougher on illegal immigration and avoid anything that looks like amnesty for the 11 million unlawful immigrants who are already here.

Republicans, you know, are aware that their party has done badly among Latino voters and could do even worse if Congress fails to pass an immigration overhaul. But there is a significant contingent of what we might call the hell no lawmakers who oppose any immigration bill, large or small, because they warn that would open the door to a conference with the Senate bill and that that bill will ultimately prevail.

CORNISH: Well, layout some of the options here and what's most likely to prevail.

WELNA: Well, House Speaker John Boehner has already ruled out taking up the Senate bill, even though Democrats are convinced it would pass if he let the whole House vote on it. Boehner could also take up a comprehensive immigration bill that a bipartisan group in the House has been working on for months, but they have yet to make that plan public.

I think the most likely scenario is what Republicans are calling the step-by-step approach and Democrats are calling a death by a thousand cuts. Under this piecemeal strategy, Boehner would bring to the House floor several more narrow bills that have passed along party lines in committee on immigration.

Some have to do with tightening border controls and worker identification requirements. Another one boosts the number of visas for highly skilled immigrants. And yet another makes it a crime to be in the country illegally, and it lets state and local police enforce immigration laws.

CORNISH: So that's a long list of small bills. I don't hear path to citizenship...



CORNISH: ...in that list at all. Where are House Republicans on that?

WELNA: Well, we have seen no legislation yet from those Republicans that lays out a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even though Democrats say no bill can become law without such a path. Lawmakers I talked to coming out of the meeting said their legislation may give legal status at some point to illegal immigrants but not citizenship which Republicans tend to regard as amnesty. And they're insisting that no form of legal status will be given to those immigrants until the borders are secured.

Now, outside the Capitol today, there were dozens of immigrants demonstrating who were brought into the country illegally as children, and they may have a better shot in the House at acquiring citizenship fairly quickly. But it appears Republicans are pretty divided over who, if anyone, should get citizenship.

CORNISH: What about House Speaker Boehner? I mean, what kind of leadership is he showing in this saga?

WELNA: Boehner is really in survival mode. He says there has to be an immigration bill which pleases the party establishment - which he's part of - but then he says it can only be a bill that a majority of House Republicans support, which is what many in his GOP conference have been demanding.

This is turning into one huge quarrel among a lot of Republicans. Today, former President George W. Bush demanded what he called a positive resolution to this debate while the editors of the conservative magazines the Weekly Standard and National Review called on the House to kill the Senate bill.

CORNISH: So realistically, will Congress send an immigration bill to President Obama's desk this year?

WELNA: You know, it's looking more and more unlikely. This is a Congress that has a hard time doing even the things that everyone agree should be done, much less the hard things.

CORNISH: That's NPR's David Welna. David, thank you.

WELNA: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.