House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday amplified the Democrats' insistence that an immigration reform package include a pathway to citizenship for the nation's illegal immigrants.
Some GOP leaders have embraced the notion of providing legal status to those residents, but Pelosi said such a strategy doesn't go far enough for House Democrats.
"In our caucus, there has to be a path to citizenship," she told reporters in the Capitol. "To talk about legalization is to say that America is not the country we think we are.
"They wouldn't even be second-class citizens, because they wouldn't be citizens. They'd be second-class residents of our country. I just can't subscribe to that, and that's not where our caucus is."
The comments arrived the same day Republicans left Washington for an issues conference in Maryland, where they'll unveil much-anticipated immigration reform principles to a conference that's sharply split on the issue.
GOP leaders appear eager to move legislation, if only to take away a stark political advantage enjoyed by Democrats when it comes to the Hispanic vote. But they face intense pressure from conservatives to oppose anything other than the deportation of those living in the country illegally.
Indeed, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) warned Tuesday a push for legalization by GOP leaders would play right into the hand of Democrats, who want citizenship.
"If we decide we're going to bring legalization status but no path to citizenship … immediately the clamor starts for full citizenship from Democrats. Immediately, they try to polarize people on the basis of race and ethnicity and national origin," King said. "Politically it would be a huge mistake. You could never start down the path to legalization without citizenship and stop there."
Pelosi, for her part, characterized the GOP principles as "a good faith effort to find common ground."
"We look forward to seeing what they are," she said. "I'm assured by the Speaker that they will be good and … acceptable to all of us, and I hope that is the case."