WASHINGTON - The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Sunday that any attempt at comprehensive immigration legislation cannot offer a "special pathway to citizenship" for those in the United States illegally. That approach could block the GOP's hopes of ever winning the White House, the top Democrat in the House predicted.
With last week's Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration bill, the emotionally heated and politically perilous debate is now heading toward the Republican-led House, where conservative incumbents could face primary challenges if they appear too lenient on the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said he does not foresee a proposal that could provide a simple mechanism for immigrants here illegally to earn full standing as U.S. citizens, as many Democrats have demanded. Goodlatte's committee members have been working on bills that address individual concerns but have not written a comprehensive proposal to match the Senate's effort.
The House answer would not be "a special pathway to citizenship where people who are here unlawfully get something that people who have worked for decades to immigrate lawfully do not have," he said.
A pathway to legal standing, similar to immigrants who have green cards, could be an option, he said.
That approach, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, would bring electoral doom for Republicans looking to take back the White House after the 2016 elections. Republicans, she advised, should follow the Senate lead "if they ever want to win a presidential race."
In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian-American voters. A thwarted immigration overhaul could again send those voting blocs to Democrats' side.
"We wouldn't even be where we are right now had it not been that 70 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama, voted Democratic in the last election," Pelosi said. "That caused an epiphany in the Senate, that's for sure."
House lawmakers have urged a piecemeal approach to the thorny issue of immigration instead of the Senate's sweeping effort.
Illustrating the strong opposition among conservatives in the House, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said flatly: "The Senate bill is not going to pass."