Boehner endorses push for citizenship for children of illegal immigrants

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday offered an endorsement for a proposal to grant citizenship to children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

“This is about basic fairness,” Boehner said one week after convening a two-hour meeting to discuss immigration with his conference.

“These children were brought here of no accord of their own, and frankly they’re in a very difficult position,” he said. “And I think many of our members believe that this issue needs to be addressed.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are crafting a bill to deal with children brought to the U.S. illegally. They have said it will differ from the Dream Act in the Senate, which would grant citizenship to children brought to the U.S. illegally who meet certain requirements.

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

“It’s an issue of decency and compassion,” Cantor said. “Where else would these kids go?”

Democrats have said the move to legalize children is a welcome step, but they are warning they won’t support an effort that would ignore the millions of other illegal immigrants.

"If they're going to talk about doing something for Dreamers that's short of even what the president did? I mean, come on. We've been there, we've done that, that's so yesterday," the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Xavier Becerra (Calif.), told reporters.

"We hope that they're prepared to join us in today's world and not talk about, you know, the 20th century," he added.

Becerra is a member of a bipartisan House group negotiating a comprehensive immigration proposal that, he has said, includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants now estimated to be in the country. That group is still putting the finishing touches on its 500-page bill and is likely to wait until after the August recess to release it, aides said.

“We’re running out of time,” another Democrat in the group, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), said. He said the negotiators would meet again next week, but he wouldn’t make predictions beyond saying the group was “close” and there would “definitely” be a bill.

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Boehner said it is “too early to predict” whether the House would vote on a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as part of its overall effort to address the issue, and the Speaker signaled leadership had yet to decide on a way forward amid deep divisions among Republicans.

“The committees are doing their work,” Boehner said. “We’re going about this in a common-sense, step-by-step approach, and we’re trying to be deliberative about how we deal with all of these issues, both fixing the problem of border security [and] internal enforcement, how to fix a broken legal immigration system, and yes, we’ve got the problem of those who are here that are undocumented.”

The House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees have approved five individual immigration bills, and Boehner said House leadership would “at some point make sure we get these bills to the floor in an organized fashion.”

But on a path to citizenship, he said, “It’s too early to predict what we will or won’t do.”

Aside from the Cantor-Goodlatte bill in the works, none of the committee measures deal with how to handle the illegal immigrants now in the country.

Boehner on Wednesday also offered some encouragement to business groups and members of the Senate “Gang of Eight” who are trying to persuade House Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform.

“The more education we have for our members, the better we’re going to be able to facilitate dealing with a very thorny issue,” Boehner said. He noted, as he has before, that more than two-thirds of House members have not dealt with immigration reform before, because they arrived after the last major push in 2007.

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.