CAPITOL HILL— Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives are rejecting the sweeping immigration reform bill passed in the Senate. Leaders of the Republican majority say they plan to take a step-by-step approach aimed at slowing momentum toward reform that would provide legal status for the estimated 11 million people now living in the United States illegally.
Members of the majority Republican conference in the House of Representatives met with their leaders late Wednesday to discuss how to react to comprehensive immigration reform passed last month in the Senate. Republican leaders in the House agree with Democrats that the U.S. immigration system is broken, but they said in a statement that they reject a single, massive "Obamacare-like" bill. Republican House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte told reporters the House plans to:
"Take a step-by-step, careful approach, holding hearings and examining and marking up individual bills so that we do not make the same mistakes made in 1986," said Goodlatte.
In 1986, then-president Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed a bill granting amnesty to 3 million people. Chairman Goodlatte said Republican lawmakers are concerned the same thing could happen with the Senate bill, and they want to see border security and internal regulations enforced before any action is taken on legalizing immigrants already here without documents. Republican Representative Michele Bachmann strongly rejected Democratic demands for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"The only thing we are supporting right now is to actually build the fence," said Bachmann.
Earlier in the day, about 500 young immigrants and their parents gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to hold a mock citizenship ceremony to declare they are ready to be recognized as Americans. Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez called on House Republicans to seize the moment. He said that with the help of Democratic votes, the House could easily get the 218 votes needed to pass immigration reform.
"And we say to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives let the people's will be heard. You know and I know that 218 votes exist for comprehensive immigration reform, and all we ask you is for five minutes on the floor of the House," said Gutierrez.
Lorella Praeli, who now lives in Washington and comes from Peru, said Hispanic voters are watching closely to see what Republicans do on the issue.
"So I think that they have an opportunity here to decide whether or not they want to be a party of the future or a party of the past," said Praeli.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost in 2012 to Democratic President Barack Obama by a margin of 27 to 71 percent among Hispanics. But analysts say many House members come from solidly, mostly white Republican districts, and are more concerned about holding their own seats rather than the next presidential election.