WASHINGTON - Legislation offering citizenship to immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children is "about basic fairness," House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday, pointing to an emerging consensus among House Republicans as they struggle for a way forward on immigration.
"These children were brought here of no accord of their own, and frankly they're in a very difficult position," the Ohio Republican said. "And I think many of our members believe that this issue needs to be addressed."
Boehner's comments at a news conference came in response to a question about legislation being drafted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would offer citizenship to certain immigrants brought here as children.
Details of the bill have not been made public but Goodlatte's committee is holding a hearing on the issue next week.
"These in many instances are kids without a country if we don't allow them to become full citizens of our country," Cantor said. "It is not only an issue of fairness, as the speaker said, it's an issue of decency and compassion. Where else would these kids go?"
Boehner and Cantor spoke as they and other GOP leaders weigh their options on immigration legislation following a special House Republican conference on the issue last week. During that meeting Boehner pledged not to bring comprehensive Senate-passed immigration to the House floor, and to proceed instead in a step-by-step fashion with individual bills, focusing first on border security.
There's little consensus among House Republicans about how to deal with the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, who would get eventual citizenship under the Senate bill. That legislation also aims to boost border security and workplace enforcement and create new legal means for hundreds of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers to come to this country.
It's not clear how or whether the House would act to deal with the bulk of immigrants here illegally, or vote on giving them citizenship. "It's too early to predict what we will or won't do," Boehner said.
But his comments indicated that at the least, the House may act to give citizenship to those brought as children, though Cantor's legislation is expected to be narrower in scope than DREAM Act bills that have failed in past congresses. The Judiciary Committee has also approved bills dealing with enforcement of immigration laws, agricultural guest workers, high-tech visas and workplace enforcement, along with a border security bill approved by the Homeland Security Committee.
A package of these bills could end up being the vehicle for the House to enter into negotiations with the Senate on its comprehensive bill — though there are some House conservatives who oppose any negotiations with the Senate, fearing the outcome could be a far-reaching path to citizenship that some condemn as amnesty.
Whatever the approach, no action is expected on the House floor until after lawmakers return from their annual monthlong summer recess in August, which will give them an opportunity to hear from their constituents on the issue.