Conservatives in no rush to embrace 'Kids Act' on immigration

Conservatives in the House are not rushing to embrace an immigration proposal from party leaders to offer a path to citizenship to children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, are crafting a bill that would be the first GOP plan to deal with some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has endorsed the idea as a matter of “fairness” to grant citizenship to children who crossed the border through no fault of their own.

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The proposal generated support inside a two-hour House GOP conference meeting on immigration last week, but some conservatives said in interviews they remain leery of any immigration legislation beyond efforts to secure the border.

“Frankly, I’m a little nervous about it,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

He said there are some conservatives who are open to the idea, and some who are not.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of sympathy for kids who came here at a young age through no fault of their own. They’re here,” Jordan said. “I think there are people who want to look at it, but still, the law’s the law.”

“I don’t know that members are fully embracing the idea,” he added.

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) said he could support legislation granting citizenship for children, depending on the details, and he said that group of people is one that would gain the most backing from conservatives. “In many cases, they’re literally paperless,” he said of the children brought across the border illegally.

The bill, likely to be called the Kids Act, has not been introduced, and Cantor aides have discouraged comparisons to the Dream Act, a component of the Senate immigration bill that would grant an expedited path to citizenship to people brought to the U.S. illegally as children who meet certain conditions, like attending college and serving in the military.

The Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on the issue next week.

Democrats have scoffed at the proposal, saying they won’t accept citizenship for only a small number of the 11 million illegal immigrants.

That response is not helping to win support from conservatives who don’t want to take a politically risky vote on a bill that won’t become law.

“I don’t know why we would bring a bill like that up at this time when [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid has said it’s dead on arrival over in the Senate,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said. “They’re kind of taking the position, my way or the highway, so it would just be symbolic.”

Salmon said he wants to hear from constituents at town hall meetings in his district before taking a position on immigration reform.

“While I think there’s a lot of folks over here that are sympathetic to that notion,” he said of the Kids Act, “it’s also not going to come without a lot of political angst, and I don’t know why we would go through that if Reid says and the president says it’s dead on arrival, and they’re not interested in us doing it.”

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said he would not support legislation that grants legal status to any illegal immigrants before border security bills are not just passed by the House but fully enacted into law.

“My position is, first things first,” he said. “Again, we have not fixed a broken border system that has been broken for decades, and to me, our focus needs be on solving that problem first. And then we’ve got plenty of time to get around to those other issues.”

Conservative Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said they’d have to read the proposal but put themselves in the “border security first” camps.

Freshman Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), on the other hand, made a passionate case in favor of the Cantor proposal, saying there was both a fiscal and moral argument in favor of granting citizenship to immigrant children.

“These are kids who are American as apple pie,” he said. “I speak Spanish fluently. They don’t even speak Spanish with me. They speak English.”

“This is all they know,” Radel continued. “We need to find any way possible to make this work within a set of parameters that will work in a secure way. And I support it. I even supported it in my primary, which is not the easiest thing to do.”

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