A senior House Republican said Thursday that the ideological
differences dividing the parties on the thorny topic of immigration
reform are "almost irreconcilable."
While most Republicans want illegal immigrants to
be treated as criminals who broke the law, said Rep. Joe Barton
(R-Texas), Democratic leaders want "a more lenient policy" allowing
some illegal residents to remain an active part of U.S. society.
"We have that basic sticking point — the difference between legal immigration and illegal immigration," Barton told CNN.
remarks are a bad omen for Democratic immigration-reform supporters —
including President Obama — who failed this year to pass targeted
changes but are vowing to continue the push in the 112th Congress.
The DREAM Act — which would carve a pathway to
permanent residency (and ultimately citizenship) for certain students
brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents — passed the House this
month but couldn't get the 60 votes required to defeat a GOP filibuster
in the Senate. Opponents argued that anyone living illegally in the
country — even those brought involuntary as kids — should be treated as
a criminal, not rewarded with amnesty and benefits.
Although the Obama administration has been
deporting illegal residents at a record clip over the last two years,
conservatives say he hasn't gone far enough to stem the tide or control
Appearing on CNN opposite Barton, Rep. Xavier
Becerra (D-Calif.) said it's simply unrealistic to round up and deport
the millions of illegals already in the country. He's advocating
reforms to focus the deportation efforts on those who pose a more
direct threat — such as those who've committed other crimes — while
allowing students and workers ways to gain a more permanent foothold in
"I'm willing to be tough, and I'm not interested in
having a system where we allow people who don't do it the right way to
continue to come in. I'm just willing to face the facts, as I think the
majority of Americans are, that we've got 11 million people [living
illegally in the U.S.]," Becerra said. "The reality is, you have to
come up with a rational approach."
Becerra suggested the nation's enforcement policies
disproportionately target illegal workers rather than the domestic
businesses that hire them.
"There may be a
violation of law [by] the immigrant who comes into the country," he
said, "but that's preceded by the violation in the law that occurs by
the employer, the American, who is willing to hire folks illegally in
The issue is rife with political implications, as
both parties are racing to court the fast-growing bloc of Hispanic
voters. Barton said he's not worried that the GOP's hard-line approach
to illegal immigration will haunt the party at the polls.
"We consider the Hispanic vote a key cornerstone of
our base," Barton said. "It doesn't make sense, as the majority party,
to try to exclude or to ignore any voting bloc that's as strong and as
conservative as the Hispanic voters are in Texas."