CAMBRIDGE, Md. – A Republican blueprint for immigration reform offers legalization for some of the nation's 11 million people who are in the country illegally, but no special pathway to citizenship, except in the cases of children brought to the country illegally by their parents, according to a draft of the plan obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The much-anticipated blueprint, discussed Thursday during a Republican retreat at a Chesapeake Bay resort here, would offer legal status to immigrants as long as they admitted to wrongdoing, paid fines and taxes, submitted to a criminal background check and demonstrated a mastery of English and civics.
Those steps would come only after measures were taken to secure borders, according to the plan.
Immigrants brought to the country as children -- so-called dreamers -- would be allowed to apply for legal residence and citizenship, the document says. It also calls for a system that tracks when travelers exit the country and would require employers to verify the immigration status of new hires with a federal database.
The one-page list says there should be a zero-tolerance policy for immigration law violators after reform is enacted and it calls for stripping the power of a president to use discretion when it comes to deciding whom to deport.
Republican leaders viewed the blueprint as the first step toward drafting legislation in the House later this year. The issue has deeply divided the party, with many conservatives opposed to pursuing reform. Others say the GOP must tackle the issue in order to reach out to Latino voters, who have increasingly turned to the Democratic Party.
Before laying out the principles, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated his hope of advancing a series of smaller bills to address illegal immigration, saying it was preferable to the comprehensive approach taken by the Senate last year.
"Doing immigration reform in a common-sense, step-by-step manner helps our members understand the bite-sized pieces. It helps our constituents build more confidence that what we're doing makes sense," Boehner said.
GOP leaders have promised not to allow a House immigration bill to be combined with the sprawling Senate bill that passed in June.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the leading Republican critic of immigration reform in the Senate, delivered a 30-page memo to the entire House GOP caucus warning against pursuing immigration reform.
"Republicans must end the lawlessness — not surrender to it — and they must defend the legitimate interests of millions of struggling American workers," Sessions wrote.
Any immigration bills probably won't come up until June, when most of the congressional primaries are over. This would protect incumbents facing challenges from the right from having to make a tough vote.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama again called for immigration reform. He has said he would be willing to work with Republicans, but in the past has insisted that any plan should include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million here illegally.
If Republicans pass a bill based on the newly released principles, it would put Democrats in a position of having to decide whether to reject the more scaled-down approach or accept it as preferable to no action at all.