House Immigration Bill Is Said to Offer 3 Paths


WASHINGTON — In the shadow of a bipartisan Senate group preparing to roll out broad immigration legislation next week, shortly after Congress returns from its holiday break, a bipartisan group of eight House members is readying its own bill.

In contrast to the Senate plan — which would provide one clear, if difficult, path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country — the House legislation will most likely offer three distinct paths to legal status.

Young immigrants in the country without legal papers, who often call themselves “Dreamers,” and low-skilled agricultural workers would qualify for an expedited road to legal status, people familiar with the negotiations said. The Dreamers should not be punished for being brought illegally to the country by their parents, House aides said, and the members agreed that the agricultural workers perform crucial work for the economy.

In an opinion article in The Los Angeles Times on Sunday, Representative Raúl R. Labrador, a Republican member of the group from Idaho, more explicitly laid out the path for Dreamers: “Those who entered the U.S. as children, through no fault of their own, will be allowed to have a pathway to citizenship.”

The second group to receive a path to legal permanent residence would be immigrants who have either a family or an employment relationship that would allow them to apply for legal status, except that they have already entered the country illegally. Currently, most of those immigrants would have to return to their home country for either 3 or 10 years before they would be eligible to reapply.

The House bill would most likely relax or waive those barriers. Immigrants would then have to return to their home country to apply for legal status, aides said, but could do so only after completing a series of hurdles including paying fines and back taxes and learning English, aides said.

The remaining illegal immigrants could apply for “provisional legal status” if they came forward and admitted breaking the law, paid fines and back taxes, and learned English, much as they could under the Senate plan, aides said. This status would allow them to live, work and travel in the country legally, and they could then apply through regular channels for a green card after 10 years and citizenship 5 years after that.

This comprise seems to mollify both sides: Republicans could reassure their base that illegal immigrants would not receive a special path to citizenship, while Democrats are satisfied because the plan would allow for the option of citizenship down the road.

A Democrat in the House group, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, wrote last month in The Orange County Register: “It seems that the Republican bottom line when it comes to how to legalize undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is that we do not create a ‘new special path to citizenship’ for only undocumented immigrants outside the paths we make available to all immigrants.”

“On the Democratic side,” he added, “we want to make sure we do not preclude anyone from citizenship who would be legalized under immigration reform.”

The House group is still debating what benefits, if any, immigrants would receive during their provisional legal status, though a Republican with knowledge of the talks said the group had agreed that no government-subsidized benefits would be included. The group is also discussing what border security standards would need to be met before any path to legal permanent residence could begin.

Another sticking point is a guest worker program. Though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s largest federation of unions, have reached an agreement that the Senate group is adopting, Republicans in the House group remain wary of the deal.

Aides to the House group have been meeting during the recess, and the members hope to release their bill before the senators officially announce theirs. Though some senators have promised to unveil their bill next week, staff members on the House side remained skeptical.

“If they do, I will be shocked,” one said. “If they do, I will buy them all dinner.”


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