Divided House Republicans Grapple With Immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) -

House Republicans on Wednesday confronted the politically volatile issue of immigration, their ranks divided and their way forward unclear.

At the White House, President Obama met with members of the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as the fate of one of his top second-term priorities rested in the hands of the restive House GOP.

Republican lawmakers were convening a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to try to work out a summer strategy following Senate passage late last month of a far-reaching bill. The Senate measure would spend tens of billions on border security, create new legal avenues for workers to come to the U.S., require employers to verify their workers’ legal status and establish a path to possible eventual citizenship for the estimated 11 million already here illegally.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), already has rejected the idea of bringing the Senate bill to the House floor.

Like many in his conference, Boehner has said border security must come first. And many Republicans prefer a piecemeal, step-by-step approach rather than a single big bill like the one the Senate passed.

But for many, the most vexing issue is what to do about those who are already in the U.S. illegally. The Senate bill offers a 13-year path for most, but in the House, most Republicans are reluctant to endorse citizenship for 11 million unauthorized immigrants, but also shy away from suggestions of deportation.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney fared abysmally with Hispanic and Asian voters last year after suggesting that people in the country illegally could “self-deport.” Such suggestions have been heard rarely among Republicans since Romney’s loss. But there is a hardcore group in the House that opposes any legal status for people here illegally.

“I’m not going to support any kind of legalization because legalization is amnesty, is eventual citizenship if not instantaneous citizenship, and if we do that we get more law breakers,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said.

Obama has said he would not sign a bill without a path to citizenship.