Ryan: Legal status won't be 'automatic'

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) confirmed on Wednesday that the House GOP’s principles on immigration reform would endorse giving legal status to illegal immigrants.

Ryan reiterated there would be no “special” pathway to citizenship for those immigrants, but said they would be able to apply for a green card after a long set of requirement were met. He did not, however, provide a timeline.

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The former vice presidential candidate said the principles would also outline a probationary work status those illegal immigrants would be initially defined under until the border is secure and a host of other requirements are satisfied.

“That is the kind of broad brush here — that is the kind of process we envision that is not a special pathway to citizenship, and it is not automatically, in anyway, giving an undocumented immigrant citizenship,” he said on MSNBC.

Ryan said the principles would also make sure the GOP writes in triggers for border and interior enforcement that cannot be side-stepped by President Obama.

“That is a big concern of ours these days,” he said. "As you can tell we have reason to be concerned. So we want to make sure that we write a law that he can’t avoid."

Ryan said the principles would outline a bill that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to “come out of the shadows” to receive a probationary work permit.

To get out of the probationary status and receive a regular work permit, triggers for border security and interior enforcement would have to be met and independently verified. 

Those immigrants would also have to pay a fine, learn English and civics, and prove that they are not on welfare.

At that point, they would be able to apply for a green card for permanent residency through regular procedures.

“And if you want to get in line to get a green card like every other immigrant, you can do that,” he said. “You just have to get at the back of the line. So that we preference the legal immigrant that did things right in the first place.”

When asked how long it would take to eventually gain citizenship or if the plan would ever allow it, Paul said it is too early in the process to answer the question.

“This isn’t even in legislative form yet, so I don’t know the answer to your question,” he said. “The Speaker is working on drafting principles that resemble what I just said, and we are going to have a big debate about these principles and about how to proceed so it is a little premature to get into those details.”

Immigration reform is expected to be a leading topic during the House GOP retreat in Maryland this week.