Republican House leaders unveiled their blueprint for immigration reform, one day before President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address. Their immigration plan included a path to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. but did not offer a special path towards citizenship.
The one-page document which embodies the House Republicans’ principles on immigration reform adopts a step-by-step approach and conditions the legal status being offered to the undocumented on border security and interior enforcement. It also calls for “zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas” and a reform that ensures “that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement.”
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said in an interview that, “Those things have to be in law, and in practice and independently verified before the rest of the law can occur.”
Once border security and enforcement “triggers” have been implemented, undocumented immigrants could come forward and live legally but only if they “admit 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).”
Unlike last year’s State of the Union Address, President Obama did not specifically call for a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented in the country nor did he set a deadline for passage of the immigration bill. He simply reiterated the need to fix the broken immigration system and how immigration reform will significantly benefit the American economy. By not getting into details, the President is seen to be giving top Republican House leaders the room to forge ahead with immigration reform the best way they can.
President Obama said in an interview that the House Republican’s blueprint indicates the narrowing gap between his principles and that of the GOP’s. He also said that he is open to a middle-ground agreement. The President, however, clarified that the undocumented should not be precluded from becoming U.S. citizens. It should not result to two permanent classes of people as being citizens or noncitizens.
Meanwhile, A.F.L.-C.I.O lambasted the House Republican’s blueprint, calling it “outrageous” and “a flimsy document that only serves to underscore the callous attitude Republicans have towards our nation’s immigrants.”
At the same time, the blueprint released by the top Republican House leaders caused a division among the Republicans. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said that “the document was not agreed upon by the GOP conference and clearly does not represent the consensus of the Republican members.”
According to Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, one of their primary concerns is that the President might not enforce border security laws. Many Republican House members also fear that supporting immigration reform would cause them to lose conservative votes come midterm election year. Adding to the lack of support in the Republican Party is the Affordable Care Act letdown.
Despite the massive hurdle, the GOP’s blueprint is seen by the White House as a good step. It is the silver lining for a compromise and the passage of an immigration reform bill this year.