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Washington • Don't be surprised if House Republicans drag the immigration debate into the next year and while they may eventually agree to a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, they seem to have no appetite to extend that to all 11 million in the U.S. illegally.
Those were the big takeaways from a nearly three-hour private GOP get-together Wednesday, where dozens of House members including Utah Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop openly discussed their views on the hottest topic in Washington.
"It was more like a family get-together and people airing out perspectives," Chaffetz said. "It was very healthy that way. There was no conclusion."
Utah's three Republicans Chaffetz, Bishop and freshman Rep. Chris Stewart left with few new insights into the thinking of their colleagues, but they did emerge more confident that a Senate-passed immigration bill is a non-starter. That Senate plan seeks to achieve comprehensive reform in a single package, with provisions ranging from tougher border enforcement to creating a lengthy path to citizenship for the millions of unauthorized immigrants already in the U.S. It was supported by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and much of the business, labor and immigrant communities.
By contrast, the House will take up the issue piecemeal, starting with a border-security bill that requires more demonstrated improvements than the Senate version. That bill may not get a vote until after the August recess, despite calls from President Barack Obama to wrap up the issue this month.
Stewart, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said the debate could extend into November. Chaffetz, who sits on Homeland Security and the Judiciary committees, went further, predicting: "It is going to go into next year."
Committee chairmen presented five immigration bills impacting border security, a workplace-verification program and temporary worker visas, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he was working on his own version of the Dream Act legislation meant to provide legal status to unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Bishop said Republicans believe that both parties can make significant progress on many of these issues.
"Even the Dream Act, which requires some compassion, I don't think that is a heavy lift," Bishop said. "Some of the other issues like a path to citizenship, what is it actually going to be, that is going to be very controversial."
Stewart has promised to vote against any path to citizenship, and Chaffetz reiterated to party leadership that he's opposed to "amnesty."
That stand conflicts with the position staked out by Obama and Senate Democrats that any immigration deal must offer legal status and eventual citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.
Stewart's confident the House will pass a package of immigration reform bills, but he said: "I'm a little more pessimistic that the House and Senate will be able to work out some sort of compromise. I hope we will."