The Immigration Battle Begins in the House

The House prepares for its own immigration debate.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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The real fight about the future of the country's immigration system begins now, as the often fragmented Republican majority in the House of Representatives deliberates on how to balance the wishes of the caucus' conservative members with the legacy of the Republican Party in elections for years to come.

The Senate passed its own version of immigration reform on Thursday, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats to overwhelmingly support legalization efforts for the more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The next steps will be more difficult. House Republicans are expected to huddle Wednesday July 10 in a closed-door meeting to chart the best path forward. House Speaker John Boehner, however, has already made two things very clear: he does not plan to simply take up the Senate bill, and he won't bring any legislation to the floor that cannot attract a majority of his Republican members.

[READ: Can Boehner Get the Senate Immigration Reform Bill Through the House?]

"For any legislation, including the conference report, to pass the House it's going to have to be a bill that has the support of the majority of our members," Boehner told reporters Thursday.

Senators who belonged to the "gang of eight," the bipartisan group who crafted the Senate's immigration legislation, had long claimed that a strong Senate showing would force the House to act, but less than 24 hours later, the momentum for immigration reform looks to be stalling.

"If anybody thinks that because there's a Senate bill the House members will feel pressure, that's just not true," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said during a Bloomberg event on immigration reform Friday morning.

Diaz-Balart is part of a bipartisan group of seven lawmakers in the House that has been steadily working for four years to draft comprehensive immigration legislation that can pass the House. He and others including Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., know first hand the partisan land mines that await any immigration bill in the House. The House working group still has not unveiled a bill although they say they are very close.

[PHOTOS: Thousands Rally in the U.S. Over Immigration Reform]

"It will be done when it is is done. It is better to get it right," Lofgren said at the same Bloomberg event.

The group itself has had a difficult time finding consensus on whether to give immigrants health and social welfare benefits. One member of the group, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who had been a key member in the negotiations because of his strong conservative credentials, walked away from a compromise in May.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee under the direction of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has taken an entirely different approach. Instead of seeking one comprehensive bill. The committee has worked to pass smaller, bite-sized reforms bolstering border security and strengthening E-Verify, a computer program that allows employers to check the immigration status of potential employees before they are hired.

[ALSO: Slim Chance of House Republicans Passing Senate's Immigration Reform Bill]

Lofgren, who serves on the committee, dismissed Goodlatte's attempts Friday as "small bore, partisan bills."

Liberal interest groups have urged the House to act quickly and address legalization for the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows, as well as ways to increase border security. Other observers, however, say that the House's slower approach is strategic and wise.

"It's highly unlikely that the lower chamber will pass a comprehensive measure. But those are the wrong standards, and to try to hold the House to them would do a grave disservice to reform," said Tamar Jacoby, the executive director of ImmigrationWorks, a group representing business leaders who support immigration reform. "The House will work in its own way: step by step, based on its own ideas, with its own methods and its own rules."

 

More News:

  • Senate Passes Sweeping Immigration Reform
  • How Overturning DOMA Changes the Immigration Debate