GOP leadership backs Democratic-supported immigration bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The House Republican leadership looks set to push an immigration bill through, even if it is opposed by a large number of GOP legislators worried about Americans’ jobs and immigrants’ votes.

The unpublished bill has been drafted by a secretive group of four Democratic and four Republican House legislators.

“I think as of last night, they may have an agreement in principle in terms of how we would deal with the question of both legal immigration and illegal immigration,” House Speaker John Boehner told the New York Times March 14. “I do believe it’s important that we deal with this in a bipartisan way, and I’m going to do everything I can to continue to promote that.”

The details of the joint bill are secret, and may not be released until after the Easter recess has passed. In 2006 and 2007, a similar amnesty plan was derailed when many legislators were confronted by opponents at during recess.

However, the bill is likely to produce a storm of protest from the GOP base, and opposition from many swing voters.

Many business backed polls show broad support for amnesty, but other polls show lopsided public and conservative opposition to the measures. (RELATED: Immigration group says polls on citizenship pathway are mistaken)

Large-scale immigration is strongly supported by an alliance of progressives, establishment media outlets, ethnic groups, and some businesses, such as Univision and Telemundo.

Boehner’s statement “is a very good thing: Bipartisan U.S. immigration reform bill takes shape in House,” said a tweet from Ali Noorani, executive director of the progressive National Immigration Forum.

“Even the House is helping to move the immigration legislative process in a positive direction,” said a March 15 statement from Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice.

Many business groups have joined that progressive coalition, because they hope to bring in many new guest-workers. For example, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy is led by a board of progressive politicians and corporate executives.

Press aides for most of the eight House legislators declined to detail their secret immigration bill.

“The first rule of the secret group is that you don’t talk about the secret group,” said one press aide.

Aides for Republican Reps. Raul Labrador, Sam Johnson and Mario Diaz-Balart declined to comment.

A press aide for Rep. John Carter said he “was very encouraged by the speaker, and is committed to the tough political work ahead to pass this bill into law.” Carter is the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee’s homeland security panel.

However, the details of the House bill aren’t as important as Boehner’s apparent willingness to support the bill.

That’s because any bill — even one that curbs immigration — which is passed by the House can be completely changed during a later House and Senate conference, if Boehner agrees.

“The fear is that the House Republican leadership would use the passage of any immigration bill, even a small one, as an excuse to negotiate an broad amnesty deal with the Senate,” said a statement from Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to halve the current inflow of 1 million people per year.

The Senate bill, which sketched out in January, would grant work permits and a path to citizenship and the ballot box for 11 million illegal immigrants. It would also allow them to eventually bring in some of their relatives.

The Senate bill would also allow companies to import large numbers of low-skilled and high-skilled workers for jobs in America. Already, roughly 20 million American workers lack full-time jobs, and are increasingly dependent on federal aid. Also, many other skilled workers are working in non-skilled jobs.

The Senate bill is being drafted by a group of eight Senators, led by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

In recent weeks, several GOP legislators, including the chairman of the House judiciary committee, have suggested that the House could pass a bill which provides work-permits — but not citizenship — to guest workers and illegal immigrants

In theory, that law would allow GOP legislators to satisfy business donors and lobbyists without also creating millions of new voters for the Democrats.

But previous similar proposals have been stopped by Democrats’ desire to win citizenship for Democratic-leaning Hispanic and Asian voters.

This year, however, Democratic legislators will accept a no-citizenship plan, Krikorian predicted last month, because they’ll legalize the illegal immigrants then use the citizenship issue to spur Latino turnout in 2014 and 2016.

Republicans legislators won’t fight a subsequent bill giving the former illegals a legal path to citizenship, He said. Few Americans support a two-tier legal system, and fewer Republican legislators can ignore accusations that they support a Jim Crow legal regime, he said.

On March 12, the leading Latino legislator pushing for immigration suggested he would accept the work-but-not-citizenship plan.

“As far as I can tell, what the Republicans want and what the Democrats want are not mutually exclusive,” he wrote in a March 13 article at Roll Call. “On this critical [citizenship] aspect of immigration policy, we will arrive at a compromise that both sides will see as acceptable, if not ideal,” said Gutierrez, who is one of the eight legislators who drafted the House bill.

Any immigration bill that allows more foreign workers will cripple American workers’ job prospects, and wreck the GOP’s future, said Krikorian.

“Support for amnesty will not yield GOP House candidates any additional Hispanic support and may, in fact, cost votes among non-Hispanic whites … the end result of Republicans selling out to business interests on immigration could well be loss of the House in 2014,” he said.

Boehner’s policy choices are key to the issue. He can stop any bill from getting to a vote, and he can let Democrats pass a bill opposed by most Republicans.

Immigration-reform groups, such as NumbersUSA, have been at loggerheads with Boehner for years.

Their concerns were boosted March 10 when Boehner’s deputy refused to say that Boehner would stop an immigration bill opposed by GOP members.

“The speaker says he wants to … pass bills that the House passes,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy said on CNN’s Sunday talk show. “I would not underestimate the House’s ability to pass an immigration bill. …. We have plenty of ideas on that, and I think that we can move the ball as well,” said McCarthy, who is Boehner’s whip, or vote-counter and enforcer.

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