CAPITOL HILL — Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are outlining their principles on immigration reform to party members at a retreat in Eastern Maryland. They are likely to hear strong views from some of their more conservative legislators who want border security to take priority. President Barack Obama, Democratic lawmakers and pro-reform activists are urging House Republicans to make 2014 the year for a major overhaul of U.S. immigration policy, but analysts say there is a tough road ahead.
Some U.S. states are enacting their own measures to deal with the reality of an estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. Maryland, near the nation's capital, is allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses if they meet certain requirements.
At his annual State of the Union address, President Obama renewed his call for action.
“Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement - and fix our broken immigration system," said President Obama.
The president did not give Congress a list of demands for immigration reform. Mark Kennedy of George Washington University says this was wise.
“Well, I think the president understands that the next step in the process is to get the U.S. House to act, and the more he’s pushing, the less likely they are to act," said Kennedy.
The president and other Democrats would like the bill to contain a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett:
"We have too many families who are being torn apart - parents from children - because they lack proper documents. I believe that those families who are playing by the rules, paying their taxes, ought to have a way to pay a fine, get in line and achieve American citizenship here," said Doggett.
But many Republicans oppose citizenship as an option, and say they will only vote for reform under certain conditions. Republican Representative Andy Harris:
“Maybe after we talk about securing the border, and maybe if we take pathways to citizenship off the table, other things might be open for negotiation. But barring securing the border first and taking the pathway off the table, I’m afraid it’s a dead end in the House," said Harris.
One of the guests of first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address was Cristian Avila, an immigrants' rights activist who recently fasted for 22 days to get Congress to act. Avila said he wants to become a citizen and serve in the U.S. military.
“I think definitely citizenship is extremely important for us and for our families so we don’t create another second-class citizenship, right?" said Avila.
Avila says he and other immigrants will keep up the pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to pass immigration reform legislation.