By Mike Lillis
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) "jumped the gun" in pushing immigration reform principles on his conservative conference last week, Rep. Tom Rice said Friday.
In an interview with Fox Business News, Rice, a conservative freshman from South Carolina, said Republicans simply can't accept the legalization of undocumented immigrants that Boehner and GOP leaders have proposed.
"I was very surprised when the speaker announced his policy," Rice added. "I believe it's counterintuitive. If we offer any kind of legal status or pathway to citizenship without our borders being absolutely secure, then I promise you that we'll not only have the 11 million we're dealing with today, we'll have 11 million more five years from now. And I don't want to repeat the mistake of the past."
At the Republican policy retreat in Maryland last week, Boehner and other GOP leaders unveiled a set of immigration reform "principles" designed both to set the stage for the House debate and to rally the conservative conference behind an issue that's fractured them for years.
The one-page document includes few specifics, but a broad provision allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation, struck a raw nerve with conservatives on and off Capitol Hill. The critics don't want to give any special treatment to immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally, characterizing such a move as "amnesty" for law-breakers.
Faced with the pressure from his right flank, Boehner on Thursday seemed to walk back any urgency GOP leaders might have shown for the issue this year. Boehner blamed President Obama for the shift, saying his troops simply don't trust the White House to implement the reforms in good faith in the wake of the ObamaCare rollout.
"We are going to continue to discuss this issue with our members," Boehner said Thursday. "But I think the president's gonna have to demonstrate to the American people and to my colleagues that he can be trusted to enforce the law as it is written."
Across the aisle, Democrats are furious that Boehner is blaming Obama for the Republican inaction. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that Boehner's "feeble attempt … to blame President Obama is an abandonment of our Constitutional responsibility to legislate for the good of the American people."
"Republicans are busy inventing excuses to fail instead of reasons to act," Pelosi said in a statement.
Rice, for his part, is calling for an immigration reform policy that gives primary consideration to the economic benefit of potential immigrants, rather than prioritizing their family ties.
"If we're going have comprehensive immigration reform, what I'd like to see is control the border and a shift to an immigration plan that makes us more competitive, something like more like the rest of the world has, where your ability to immigrate is based on the skills that you offer, rather than just based on family relationships," he said.
"Two-thirds to three-quarters of our immigration's based on family relationships, and that's just anti-competitive."