WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican leadership team are preparing to release their principles for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws this month, the speaker told members at a closed-door conference Wednesday.
Although the “standards or principles document,” as Boehner referred to the white paper in the meeting, has long been in the works, its imminent release reflects a broader push within the Republican Party to put forth its own proposals as a counterpoint to legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
House Republicans hope to release their principles near the end of the month before President Obama’s State of the Union address and before their annual retreat. Republican aides had previously said the leadership team was unlikely to make any strategic decisions on immigration before the retreat.
In June, the Senate passed a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws — including a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally — with bipartisan support. But the legislation has faced more hurdles in the Republican-controlled House, where some lawmakers are opposed to any form of legalization, which they call amnesty. House Republicans instead prefer a piecemeal approach, with several smaller bills instead of one large one.
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These narrower bills would boost the number of visas for high-tech workers, fast-track legalization for farmworkers in the country illegally, and allow immigrants who came to the country illegally as children to apply for legal status, among other provisions.
Boehner assured his leadership team Wednesday that he was not planning to enter into conference negotiations with the Senate using the upper chamber’s broad bill as a framework.
“Speaker Boehner has consistently been clear for some time now that he supports step-by-step, common-sense reforms to fix our broken immigration system,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for the Ohio lawmaker.
Rebecca Tallent, a longtime immigration adviser to Sen. John McCain of Arizona whom Boehner recently hired, has been spearheading the effort, working with other key Republicans: Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader; Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who has been pushing for a broad immigration overhaul; Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, his party’s 2012 vice-presidential nominee and chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The goal of the principles is to gauge the Republican conference’s willingness to tackle immigration this year, as well as to receive feedback from lawmakers before embarking on a legislative strategy.
In a sign of the opposition Boehner faces, two conservative Republicans stood up during the session to voice opposition to the speaker’s approach, sources said.
But after the meeting, other Republicans appeared open to Boehner’s move.
“He’s trying to get it higher on the priority list,” said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., a conservative who has a growing Latino population in his Omaha-area district. “We have to work on it.”
Diaz-Balart said Boehner was taking a “methodical” approach to get the majority of Republicans on board.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a traditional ally of House Republicans, is planning to “pull out all the stops” to press Congress to pass immigration reform this year. Thomas Donohue, the group’s president, said Wednesday that the business lobby would team with unions, faith leaders, law-enforcement groups and others to “make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted.”
Material from the Tribune Washington Bureau is included in this report.