"It's not a bill I can support," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said at a Verona, Va., town hall meeting recently. "We think a legal status in the United States, but not a special pathway to citizenship, might be appropriate."
Goodlatte has said that after attaining legal status, immigrants could potentially use the existing avenues toward naturalization, such as family or employment ties.
He and others also argue that many immigrants would be satisfied with legalization alone, without getting citizenship. That's something many advocates dispute, though studies show that a significant number of immigrants who are eligible for citizenship haven't taken that step — about 40 percent in a Pew Hispanic Center study in February.
Goodlatte has not provided much detail on how he foresees immigrants moving through existing channels from legalization to citizenship. Depending on its design, such an approach could touch anywhere from hundreds of thousands to many millions of the 11 million people here illegally. So if House Republicans end up taking that approach, how they craft it would help determine whether Democrats and the advocacy groups could go along.
For now, advocates say that making immigrants here illegally go through the existing system would help relatively few of them.
Current law says that if you've been in the country illegally for more than a year, you have to return to your home country for 10 years before you can re-enter legally, which would likely dissuade many people.
Moreover, existing family sponsorship channels are badly backlogged, and many are capped. People applying for citizenship through their siblings face waits of more than 20 years in some cases, for example. On the employment side, existing visa programs are difficult to use and inadequate to meet demand, and also face long backlogs.
Waiving the requirement for people to exit the country and adding visas to reduce backlogs could take in a substantial number of the 11 million here illegally, arguably without being a "special" pathway, advocates say.
It's a long shot, but the result could be an immigration deal between the House and the Senate, and a bill for Obama to sign.
"If the House wants to dis the Senate bill and come up with their own approach to the 11 million that has no special pathway to citizenship, we would be happy to work with them on a way that would meet with our bottom line, which is an inclusive, immediate path to legal status for the 11 million, and an achievable and clear path to eventual citizenship," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a pro-immigrant group. "They can preserve the sound bite and we can have the policies that we want."
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