A House immigration reform proposal, once thought dead for the 113th Congress, is coming back to life, perhaps by the end of the month, but passage of legislation faces long odds against a GOP deeply divided on the issue.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, plans to unveil "principles" of immigration reform in the coming weeks, perhaps as early as the Republican conference retreat at the end of January, he told GOP lawmakers this week, and they'll likely focus on committee-passed bills that focus on improving enforcement of immigration laws and increasing the flow of both high- and low-skilled workers.
The move has created an uproar among the most conservative faction in the GOP, with the far-right opponents fearful that the end result will be comprehensive legislation providing amnesty to illegal immigrants and a new wave of foreign workers, both low-skilled and highly skilled, who will lower wages and make jobs even more scarce.
"The idea that Republicans will distract from Obamacare and divide their own party ahead of a promising midterm election defies logic," said Daniel Horowitz, who is policy director for the conservative Madison Project, which raises money for conservative candidates.
Republican opponents in both the House and Senate tell the Washington Examiner that they believe Boehner is pushing immigration reform to appease U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying heavily for the legislation they say is needed to fix a broken system and bring in needed workers.
Chamber president Tom Donohue said this week the Chamber will financially support candidates who back reform and "turn up the heat" on those who oppose it.
The Madison Project and other opponents of a comprehensive reform measure believe the Chamber is pushing the legislation in order to increase foreign workers, which could result in cheaper labor for businesses.
The Chamber denies this accusation. In a "State of American business" speech this week, Donohue said reform is needed to broaden opportunity in America.
"Because throughout our history immigrants have brought innovation, ideas, investment, and dynamism to American enterprise," Donohue said.
Boehner isn't giving out details about the principles he's developing and provided the Washington Examiner a vague description during his weekly press conference. But Boehner has signaled that whatever emerges is likely to be based on legislation that has already churned through the House Judiciary Committee in 2013 under the chairmanship of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who has taken a "piecemeal" approach to reforming the nation's immigration system.
"Chairman Goodlatte has been working with the leaders, really over the course of the last year as we've listened to our members discuss this issue," Boehner told the Examiner. "And we thought it would be appropriate to outline standards, principles that would guide us in a common-sense, step-by-step approach to dealing with immigration."
None of Goodlatte's legislation creates a pathway to citizenship for those now here illegally, nor do any of the bills grant legal status.
Boehner said he opposes the Senate-passed comprehensive plan, which includes those provisions. Republican skeptics, however, fear any GOP legislation will eventually lead to a bill that at least legalizes the 11 million people who are not legally living in the United States, because Democrats will insist on it.
Goodlatte aides declined to comment on the planning, other than to emphasize that Boehner is consulting Goodlatte on writing the principles.
Here's what his panel passed so far and which Boehner is likely using as a base for the GOP principles:
• Increase in STEM workers: This legislation would greatly increase the number of green cards and visas provided to foreign workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and math.
• Guest worker program: The measure creates a "a new and temporary agricultural guest worker program aimed at providing farmers with a more reliable workforce.
• E-Verify: Would require employers to check the legal status of job applicants through an electronic verification system.
• Enforcement of immigration laws: This measure would give states and local governments the power to enforce federal immigration laws, expands the visa security program and gives border patrol agents better access and ability to increase security on border land.