Third-ranking House Republican backs legal status for immigrants

The third-ranking House Republican, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), said he backs granting legal status, but not a new pathway to citizenship, to millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

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McCarthy stated his personal view on the contentious issue in an interview with KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif. He signaled that the call for a provisional legal status would be included in the immigration reform principles House Republican leaders are soon to release.

"The principles aren't written yet, but in my personal belief, I think it'll go with legal status that will allow you to work and pay taxes," McCarthy said.

McCarthy made clear he did not favor carving out a new path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. But his position appears to comport with the views of other senior Republicans who have called for illegal immigrants to have access to the existing route to citizenship once they receive an initial legal status and fulfill other requirements.

McCarthy has in the past suggested he could support legal status for some immigrants in the US illegally, but the timing of his statement is significant coming before the release of principles from top House Republicans.

That system is unlikely to lead to citizenship for many of the 11 million illegal immigrants, and it is unclear whether Democrats would back such a compromise.

The House GOP principles could be released before President Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 28 or at the House Republican Conference’s subsequent retreat in Cambridge, Md.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other top Republicans have said the House would pursue a step-by-step approach to immigration, reform rather than the comprehensive bill the Senate passed last year.

Immigration advocates have targeted McCarthy, whose district includes a large Hispanic population.

— This story was updated at 11:36 a.m.