Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leader lays out citizenship possibility for immigrants

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday said immigrant children brought to the country illegally by their parents should be given an earned path to citizenship, and he endorsed the possibility of providing legal status to adult immigrants in the country illegally by using three avenues already in existing law.

Speaking at a GOP Conference Hispanic Heritage month event, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.,  said children of immigrants not legally in the U.S. could find their way to citizenship by serving in the military, through education and working in specific fields.

“For children brought here illegally by parents, I wouldn’t give them a special pathway to citizenship, I would give them an earned pathway to citizenship,” Goodlatte said.

Everyone else could use routes that already exist in law: sponsorship by a family member, including a U.S. citizen spouse, or sponsorship by an employer.

Using those methods won’t result in all of the 11 million people in the country illegally getting citizenship, but “will be a major solution to the problem if you were able to be legally present in the United States, able to work anywhere you wanted, able to own your own business, able to pay your taxes, travel to your home country and back or any other country you wanted to travel to,” said Goodlatte.

Goodlatte, who previously worked as an immigration attorney, said providing legal status would “help our country solve a very serious problem of not knowing who is here and under what circumstances they are in the U.S.  It would eliminate the fear factor that’s involved,” he said.

The idea of granting some kind of legal status to immigrants and allowing them to apply for citizenship through sponsorship or marrying was raised earlier in the week by Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks, a Republican immigration reform advocacy group, at a discussion sponsored by the New Democratic Network. She suggested it could benefit some 7 million of the immigrants here illegally.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, said of providing a path to citizenship for DREAMers that “there is growing consensus in our conference to provide a solution for these children who have contributed to our country and want to continue to do so.”

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Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said there appears to be a Republican comfort in providing a path to citizenship for the children of immigrants brought to the country illegally, the so-called DREAMers. But until House Republicans produce paper with the details, it’s hard to know whether they are serious, Kelley said.

For now it appears they are engaging in coded talk they may have tested with focus groups to woo Hispanics, she said. Under current law, education does not provide a path to citizenship to immigrants, so creating that avenue for DREAMers would seem to be a “special” path to citizenship, which Republicans said they don’t want to create.

As for the routes to citizenship for all the other immigrants, Kelley said they are narrow and fraught with obstacles, so they don’t provide a meaningful alternative for people to get legal status.

Only 5,000 visas for low-skilled workers are available each year, not enough to have much meaning for those illegally in the country, she said. The law also prevents people who are in the country illegally from being sponsored by their children over 21 years old for citizenship for several years. Those bars to citizenship would have to be changed if people in the country illegally are to take advantage of that route, she said. She questioned Jacoby’s estimate that 7 million immigrants could get citizenship status through legal means.

Dayana Torres, 19, originally of Colombia, said she was happy to hear Goodlatte mention an earned path to citizenship for DREAMers. He seemed to speak with a different tone about immigration than at a town hall he held during the summer, she said.

“This seemed a lot more in check with what we are looking for,” said Torres, a student at George Mason University. Torres said her parents arrived in the country illegally and brought her and her sister with them when she was 9. She considers herself a Republican even though she cannot vote

Republicans at the event dismissed suggestions that immigration reform legislation is dead or that it is being intentionally delayed as a way of killing it as time runs out on the congressional session.

Although the Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration bill, House leaders have refused to take up that legislation and instead have come up with several separate bills, four of which have passed through committees.

However, there are efforts under way to try to restart movement on the issue. Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi was to meet later Thursday with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.

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