Overall, the citizenship proposal could appeal to both parties. To Democrats, it could offer a relatively straightforward way for people here illegally to become citizens. Republicans, on the other hand, would be able to claim that the proposal does not grant anybody a “special” pathway to citizenship. Rather, undocumented immigrants would go through a process similar to yet separate from the one legal immigrants undergo to get green cards. At the same time, it would not take visas away from people applying for them through the existing legal process.
That has long been a condition for conservative Republicans.
“Any new pathway to citizenship is completely off the table,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the House working group. Illegal immigrants should be able to get citizenship “the same way as any other immigrant has to do it,” he added. “You have to apply for legal permanent residence, be it family-based or employment-based. You shouldn’t be treated worse than the people doing it the right way, but I think it would be unconscionable for us to treat them better than the people who are doing it the right way.”
Aides say the lawmakers in the secretive House immigration group are hopeful they can resolve their differences in the weeks ahead. But many questions remain.
Most importantly, the lawmakers would have to agree on the legislative language lifting some of the existing restrictions for illegal immigrants.
“It would have to be so subtle that nobody would notice it but it gets them out from under the debate on pathway,” said a Democratic lawmaker who has been briefed on the talks. The lawmaker declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the discussions.
The proposal also does not address people here illegally who don’t have family ties in the United States or whose employers can’t or won’t sponsor them for green cards. That means single people working as day laborers or homemakers, for instance, could find themselves excluded.
A Democratic aide said House Democrats would insist that everybody living in the country illegally would have the opportunity to become a citizen.
It remains to be seen how long undocumented immigrants would have to wait before they could apply for green cards. A separate White House immigration bill leaked last week required them to remain on a provisional status for eight years before becoming legal permanent residents. Since it takes roughly five years for legal permanent residents to become citizens, that means undocumented immigrants would have to wait 13 years before becoming Americans.
The House proposal would put the so-called “dreamers,” young people brought to the country illegally as children, on a separate path to citizenship, sources said. That effort might have gotten easier since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., came out in support of granting dreamers citizenship earlier this month.
Immigration advocates say they could support a measure similar to the one under discussion in the House once they see all the details.