CAMBRIDGE, Md. — A Republican blueprint for an immigration overhaul offers legalization for some of the nation’s 11 million people who are in the country illegally, but no special pathway to citizenship except in the cases of children brought here by their parents, according to a draft presented Thursday to lawmakers by party leadership.
The blueprint, while short on specifics, would offer legal status to immigrants as long as they admitted to wrongdoing, paid fines and taxes, submitted to a criminal-background check and demonstrated a mastery of English and civics.
Those steps would come only after measures were taken to secure borders, according to the plan.
Immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — so-called Dreamers — would be allowed to apply for legal residence and citizenship, the document says.
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The one-page draft says there should be a zero-tolerance policy for immigration-law violators once reform is enacted and calls for stripping the presidential power to use discretion when deciding whom to deport.
The plan’s lack of a special pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million drew fire from some Democrats, unions and Latino organizations. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, described the draft as a “flimsy document.”
Laura Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that a plan to legalize without a meaningful road to citizenship would create a “legal purgatory” for immigrants.
But many Republicans say that immigrants who cross the borders unlawfully or overstay their visas should use existing procedures to apply for permanent residence and citizenship, rather than being given a special process that would effectively give them priority over immigrants who arrived legally.
The issue has deeply divided the party, with many conservatives opposed to pursuing any change. Others say the GOP must tackle the issue to reach out to Latino voters, who have increasingly turned to the Democratic Party.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, presented the principles document to his rank-and-file members, who have gathered at a resort hotel on the banks of the frozen Chesapeake Bay for a policy and strategy retreat.
“It’s important to act on immigration reform because we’re focused on jobs and economic growth, and this about jobs and growth,” he said, according to a source in the room for the presentation.
But Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a leading Republican critic of an immigration overhaul, delivered a memo to the House GOP caucus, warning against immigration reform. “Republicans must end the lawlessness — not surrender to it — and they must defend the legitimate interests of millions of struggling American workers,” Sessions wrote.
Democrats have stressed that any immigration overhaul should include a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million people in the country illegally.