Conservative groups urge Boehner to act on immigration reform in the House

Three influential conservative groups on Tuesday urged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to pursue immigration reform in the House.

In a letter to Boehner, American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said their groups support many of the key elements in the immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate, including the pathway to citizenship. 

But the group leaders told Boehner the House should take up the issue to ensure that a final version of the law adheres more closely to conservative principles.

“The U.S. Senate passed a bill last week that we consider progress,” the letter reads in part. 

“But members of the House will correctly pursue their own legislation. This will ensure that any final product has considerable conservative input, and that certain aspects of the Senate bill are markedly improved. Whether a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach, we support an immigration reform package that reflects the economic contributions that immigrants make to our country.“

Boehner has said he has no intention of taking up the Senate immigration reform bill because it doesn’t have majority support from his caucus, and on Monday he announced the House would pursue an immigration overhaul of its own. 

The Speaker said any bills that come out of the House would also require majority support from his caucus to see a floor vote.

Still, not all conservatives are on board with the House pursuing immigration reform.

The editors of two influential conservative magazines — William Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of the National Review — on Tuesday shared a byline on an editorial called “Kill the Bill,” in which they argued there’s “no rush to act on immigration” and Republicans eager to address the issue are doing so in a “political panic.”

“If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill,” the editorial reads in part. 

Kristol and Lowry conclude by suggesting the House “not even bother” with the issue because whatever it passes will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Holtz-Eakin, Norquist and Cardenas tried to point out areas of the debate where it believes Senate Republicans tried to move the bill in a more conservative direction but were blocked by Democrats in the Senate. They argue these were issues the House now has an opportunity to muscle through.

Their letter singled out amendments from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would cap low-skill visas, one from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would provide more high-skilled visas, and one proposed by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would require a five-year waiting period for green card holders to apply for federal healthcare benefits.

But perhaps the thorniest issue Boehner faces is the timing for when illegal immigrants would be eligible for provisional legal status on the path to full citizenship. 

In the Senate bill, immigrants would become eligible as early as six months after enactment of the law. Many conservatives — including Boehner — want specific border security enhancements fully implemented and measured for their veracity before legalization occurs.

The letter from the conservative groups pressed for “a tough but humane process to earned legal status,” but didn’t break down what that might entail.