(CNN) — House Republican leaders unveiled on Thursday an outline of immigration “standards,” saying there “will be no special path to citizenship” for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The document says, “These persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).”
The GOP outline, which was discussed at the House Republicans’ annual strategy retreat, insists that “none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented.”
The outline does not provide a specific timeline for when undocumented residents could attain legal status. Two Republicans told CNN the plan would not explicitly bar eventual citizenship for those qualify under existing employment and family- based categories.
“These standards are as far as we are willing to go,” House Speaker John Boehner told conference members, according to a source in the room. “Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that for her caucus, it is a special path to citizenship or nothing. If Democrats insist on that, then we are not going to get anywhere this year.”
Pelosi said Democrats look forward to reaching common ground on immigration reform with House Republicans but the current draft leaves questions unanswered.
“It is our hope that the presentation of these standards signals a sincere intent to move forward with immigration reform. However, the Republican principles raise more questions than answers,” she said in a statement.
“First, what is the standard for DREAMers to become citizens of our country? Next, what is required for immigrants to live legally in our nation, and will it result in full citizenship? Finally, will Republicans’ enforcement triggers create more barriers instead of removing obstacles to comprehensive reform?”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who helped draft the principles, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “It’s not trust then verify. It’s verify then trust. Verify that we have border security. Verify that we have interior enforcement. Verify that we’ve got the right rule of law reforms in place so we don’t have this problem 10 to 15 years down the road.”
Boehner acknowledged the issue was tough politically, but declared it should be on the House GOP agenda this year.
“This problem has been around for at least the last 15 years. It’s been turned into a political football. I think it’s unfair, so I think it’s time to deal with it,” the speaker said at a news conference Thursday.
The issue of how to deal with undocumented workers in the country now is the central component of immigration reform that splits House GOP members.
The new reform principles from Boehner — unveiled at a three-day closed-door meeting — provides a path to citizenship for children, but sets up a separate process for adults to gain legal status.
But even if Boehner can get agreement on GOP principles — a tall order given the difficulties the Speaker has had corralling many conservatives — some House Republicans say the timing for moving the legislation is not ideal this year.
According to several GOP sources familiar with the discussions, a growing number of members – even those who are frequent allies of Boehner — are worried that voting on such a bill would just open them up to primary challenges from the right. They caution that the leadership should hold off until most of the GOP primaries are over, or even wait until the lame duck session of Congress after the midterm elections in November.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry said it was important for House Republicans to lay out their position on immigration, but stopped short of saying they should vote on anything.
“I don’t think it’s good strategy for us to divide ourselves. If we can unify around a plan and lay out our plan for how we would do immigration reform, I think that’s a helpful thing. A vision and a plan are a helpful thing,” McHenry said.
But House GOP campaign chief Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, agreed with Boehner that they need to tackle the issue, telling reporters, “People expect us to solve these problems.”
Walden pointed out that the House schedule puts budget votes and other issues ahead of any debate on immigration, so a vote on that is “probably months out.” And, he added, “most of the primaries will have faded by then, anyway.”
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger did admit that some of his colleagues are reluctant to take on such a controversial issue, but said he thinks it is time to present a Republican solution.
“I’m not worried. I’ll just do what the right thing is at the right time and we’ll see how this debate shapes out,” Kinzinger told reporters.
Boehner deflected questions about the specifics of a GOP bill, but reiterated that he wants to do it in “bite-sized pieces” and that it has to start with border security.
“You can’t begin the process of immigration reform without securing our borders and the ability to enforce our laws,” the speaker said. “Everyone in our conference understands that’s the first step in terms of meaningful reform of this problem.”
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who heads a group of conservatives in the House, said the GOP does need to address the problems in the current system, but also emphasized that current restrictions need to be effectively enforced and security needs to be beefed up.
While he said he would await what leaders decided to push, Scalise seemed skeptical of a plan granting legal status to those undocumented workers in the country now.
“You do say that somebody right now that’s here illegally can jump ahead of somebody that’s waiting in that line. I think that does create problems for the people who are playing by the rules,” he said.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka slammed the Republican principles, issuing a statement pushing for a pathway to citizenship.
“Seven months after 68 Senators overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan immigration bill, House Republicans respond with a flimsy document that only serves to underscore the callous attitude Republicans have toward our nation’s immigrants,” he said in a statement. “Until we create a functioning immigration system with a pathway to citizenship, ruthless employers will continue to exploit low wage workers, pulling down wages for all.”
Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the outline an “encouraging sign.”
“The draft Standards for Immigration Reform being debated by the House Republicans today mark important progress in ensuring immigration reform is a priority this year.”