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Obama Urges Citizenship for Immigrants, Despite Lingering GOP Opposition

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivering the tea party rebuttal, also said that Republicans should work more to welcome immigrants, suggesting cracks in the GOP’s opposition to citizenship for the undocumented.

“We must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future,” Paul said in prepared remarks. “We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities. We must be the party that says, ‘If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.’”

Last week, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 55 percent of people supported a path to citizenship. Almost half of all Americans support Obama’s handling of immigration, an increase from seven months ago, according to the poll.

Nevertheless, in response to the president’s speech, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, issued a statement blasting his “continued calls for amnesty.”

“If the president was serious about creating jobs and spurring economic growth, amnesty for illegal immigrants would not be on his agenda,” said Smith, a former House Judiciary Committee chairman.

“The president’s plan to legalize all those in the U.S. illegally will make it easier for 11 million illegal immigrants to compete with hard-pressed American workers,” he said. “Amnesty means fewer jobs for legal immigrants and unemployed Americans.”

Current House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., called immigration reform “a top priority” for his panel but added that “many questions ... need to be answered” through additional hearings.

“I caution members of Congress and the American people, regarding the president’s immigration reform proposal, since this administration has such a poor record of enforcing the immigration laws that are already on the books,” Goodlatte said. “Immigration reform is a massive undertaking and is far too important to not examine each piece in great detail.”

Goodlatte said his committee is about to offer briefings for House Republicans and their aides. Subcommittees will begin holding hearings on issues including agricultural worker overhaul, STEM visas, E-Verify, border security and how the visa system works.

Goodlatte said he will attempt to find common ground on “what is the status going to be of people not lawfully here today and what is the way to prevent what has happened over the last almost 40 years since the last immigration reform was done to assure that that won’t happen again.”

“We don’t have a time table yet but we certainly hope to do it this year,” Goodlatte said.

Anne L. Kim contributed to this story.

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