Hearing Gives Insight Into House Immigration Plans

A House subcommittee Tuesday discussed possible legislation to grant legal status to people who entered the country illegally as children. The hearing offers a clue to the direction House Republican leaders may take in response to a comprehensive immigration overhaul passed by the Democratically controlled Senate last month.

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No matter how it's packaged, Republicans in the House say they won't be taking up the full immigration bill that passed the U.S. Senate. It has been nearly a month now since the Senate approved that overhaul, and supporters are getting worried they might be losing momentum. Still, lawmakers in the GOP-led House are looking at the issue of immigration in separate pieces. Yesterday, a House committee held a hearing on the plight of immigrants brought unlawfully to the country as children. In a break from the past, House Republicans seemed open to citizenship for those young people, but not for their parents. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: After long opposing such bills such as the Dream Act that grants citizenship to those brought to the country unlawfully as youngsters, the GOP is now divided over showing leniency. At a hearing of a House Judiciary Subcommittee yesterday, Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina argued that the 1.3 million undocumented immigrants who arrived as children have broken no laws.

REPRESENTATIVE TREY GOWDY: Simply put, children who were brought here haven't committed a crime, misdemeanor or otherwise. The adults may have, but the children have not.

WELNA: And Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte - who's a key player in the House immigration debate - also emphasized the need to act on behalf of such immigrants.

REPRESENTATIVE BOB GOODLATTE: Successful immigration reform must also look at how to address the significant population of illegal immigrants who are already here, and who were brought here as young children by their parents through no fault of their own.

WELNA: For Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez, all of this amounted to a welcome reversal of the hard line his GOP colleagues had been taking.

REPRESENTATIVE LUIS GUTIERREZ: Just a month ago, all but six of the Republicans in the House voted to kill the funding for the deferred action for childhood arrivals. Three weeks ago, every single Republican on this panel voted to make every undocumented young person a criminal.

WELNA: Not one of the eight witnesses who testified at the hearing spoke against granting citizenship to such young persons. But 25-year-old Pamela Rivera, who was born in the U.S., told the panel of how her mother had been sent back to her native Colombia after a traffic stop.

PAMELA RIVERA: I have learned to cherish every moment I have with my family, especially since we've lost our mom.

WELNA: Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte, who's previously rejected a path to citizenship for most unlawful immigrants, had a question for Rivera about her mother.

GOODLATTE: If she were here in the United States and she got a different status, say a legal status, as opposed to a citizenship status, how would she feel about that?

WELNA: Not so well, Rivera replied.

RIVERA: She still thinks of her herself as an American, even though she's in Colombia. So, you know, I feel as though my mom would like a shot at being a citizen. She wants the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with that.

WELNA: And Rosa Velazquez - whose parents a quarter century ago brought her from Mexico when she was five - warned against putting limits on citizenship.

ROSA VELAZQUEZ: If Congress were to adopt an incomplete solution that would provide a path to earn citizenship for Dreamers like me, but something less for our parents, it would be like saying that I can now be one of you, but my parents can never be.

WELNA: But Chairman Goodlatte was unmoved.

GOODLATTE: I do not believe that parents who made the decision to illegally enter the U.S. while forcing their children to join them should be afforded the same treatment as these kids.

WELNA: Even if what Goodlatte's proposing may find stiff resistance from some hard-line Republicans, such as Iowa's Steve King, who recently said this about the undocumented young to the conservative news site Newsmax.

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE KING: For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds, and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

WELNA: House Democrats, meanwhile, say they're inclined to vote against any bill limited citizenship to those brought to the country as youngsters. They did vote for that in the past with the Dream Act, but they say they did so because nothing more was possible then. The ground has since shifted on immigration, to the point where House Republicans are at least talking about taking action. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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