An emerging coalition of House Republicans is arguing that young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children constitute “a special protected class” that should eventually be eligible for citizenship, an approach they say combines sound policy with smart politics.
Conservatives remain adamant, however, that no such legislation be considered until a border-security bill is passed and tough enforcement triggers are in place.
This thinking represents an important shift within the House Republican Conference, where many members have long vocally opposed providing “amnesty” to anyone living in the U.S. illegally. At the same time, it underscores the emphasis on what conservatives have called a “border-first” mentality—that legalization should not be legislated until new border-enforcement laws are on the books.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is the driving force behind the strategy to focus on legalizing undocumented youths. According to Republican aides, passing such a bill would equip Republicans with a reasonable answer to the question of what to do with the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. It would also force Democrats into a political lose-lose: Either endorse a GOP proposal that legalizes so-called “Dreamers” or oppose this longtime policy goal and hold out for blanket legalization for the entire undocumented community.
As one House leadership aide framed it, “How can they say no to the kids?”