CAPITOL HILL — House Republicans are rejecting the push by President Barack Obama and the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would provide legal status and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally. Republican leaders are advocating a step-by-step approach focusing first on border security and enforcement of immigration laws. Young Hispanic immigrants say Republicans will pay a price with Latino voters if they fail to pass substantial reform.
Outside the U.S. Capitol, some 500 young Hispanic immigrants held a mock citizenship ceremony to send a message to House Republicans that they want to be recognized as Americans.
Inside, Republican leaders rejected calls for an immigration reform bill like the one passed in the Senate last month. House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans know the current system is broken, but they reject a single, massive bill.
“A vast majority of our members do believe that we have to wrestle with this problem. They also believe that we need to do this step-by-step, common sense approach," said Boehner.
Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez stood with the demonstrators. He and other Democrats say it would be easy to pass the major overhaul if Republicans would allow a vote.
"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, at the mock citizenship rally, issued this challenge.
“The choice is yours, Speaker Boehner. You can bring your party to the evolving America or you can relegate your party to the past," said Praeli.
In the 2012 election, President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney only won 27 percent. That's not sustainable for Republicans, says historian Allan Lichtman.
“This immigration debate is really the first opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate that, yes, we understand the issues that are of concern to Hispanics in America and we are willing to respond. We are not hard-hearted and cold people in our party," said Lichtman.
Some Republicans reject any call for a path to citizenship or legalization. Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann:
“The only thing we are supporting right now is to actually build the fence," said Bachmann.
Republican leaders plan to focus first on border control and visa enforcement. They say it is more important that Congress gets it right rather than fast.