WASHINGTON — Conservatives in the House could support an immigration reform plan in line with one proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a key House Republican said Wednesday.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a major player in efforts to develop legislation that could pass the GOP-controlled House, said there should be a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants already in the country.
"There has to be something in my opinion that does not lead to a special pathway to citizenship, but does allow the 11 million people that are here illegally to come out of the shadows and to become legal, and we shouldn't create a second-class group that can never become citizens," Labrador said at a lunch gathering of House conservatives. "But we also should not give them a special pathway that nobody can follow."
Although Labrador, like Paul, did not spell out how illegal immigrants could eventually become citizens, he said a reform plan should not "close the doors for anybody to apply for citizenship."
"The citizenship aspect will be like any other person who wants to become a citizen. There should not be a special pathway to citizenship," he said.
Paul outlined Tuesday a "middle ground" reform plan that would hinge on verification that the border is secure, a stipulation that Labrador said would be vital to ensuring sufficient Republican support.
Labrador, who is serving his second term in the House, has been a part of a working group of eight House members drafting a compromise bill. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that House GOP leaders had met last week with that group and have begun an effort to educate the broader membership on the immigration system before consideration of any legislation.
"They're talking to small groups about the immigration system and how it works," Labrador said. "That's one of the hardest things about the immigration debate is that you don't really understand — unless you've participated in it or you've actually worked in it — you don't really know how the process works."
Labrador also said that any progress on the issue could be stifled by Senate Democrats at the behest of labor unions, which he said oppose a workable guest worker program.
"There's absolutely no way that a Republican would vote for immigration reform without a workable guest-worker program. And I think the unions know that. And if you see anything break apart in this immigration reform thing that we're doing, it's going to be because the unions and the Senate Democrats are unwilling to do what the American people want because they're willing to put the labor unions ahead of the American people," he said.
A group of eight senators has been working separately to develop a proposal, announcing a shared set of principles in January with the goal of presenting legislation in March. Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned Wednesday about the status of those talks, saying that March deadline "and others have come and gone."
"This process will take time. It will not be easy. There will be strongly held, differing points of view. Because we do not yet have legislative language to debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee will not be able to report a comprehensive immigration bill by the end of April, which was my goal," he said.