Immigrant Pact Begins to Emerge From House

WASHINGTON—Illegal immigrants could become citizens in 15 years under legislation being drafted by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, a timeline two years longer than under a similar Senate bill.

The timeline was one of the few specifics to emerge Friday from an “agreement in principle” that a so-called gang of eight House lawmakers struck Thursday evening on a broad overhaul of immigration laws. Details that trickled out suggested that the House plan would diverge in some important areas from a bipartisan Senate bill, differences that House Republicans said would make the plan more palatable to their GOP colleagues.

Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D.-Ill. (left).

“Our bill has a better chance of passing the House than the Senate bill,” Rep. John Carter (R., Texas) said Friday.

 

Both the House and Senate plans would make the 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. wait 10 years before being eligible for permanent legal status, also known as a green card. But under the House plan, it would take an additional five years to become a citizen, as it generally does under current law. The Senate bill would shorten that to three years.

Visas for low-skill guest workers could emerge as another point of tension. House Democrats appear ready to back the Senate bill’s terms for awarding the visas, as well as accompanying wage rules, which were negotiated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. House Republicans don’t back that agreement. The guest-worker issue is likely to be fought out in tandem with the main immigration bill, with Democrats and Republicans putting forward competing proposals when the broader bill is released, aides familiar with the negotiations said.

Both the House and Senate plans would require all businesses within five years to screen workers with E-Verify, the federal database used to check workers’ legality.

House lawmakers reached their general agreement on Thursday evening after resolving their last major disagreement, which centered on the rules for health-insurance coverage for illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. Details of their health-coverage agreement weren’t immediately available.

Republican lawmakers from the group chatted with reporters Friday about the agreement’s generalities, while Democrats largely stayed out of the spotlight. Aides said Democrats were simply abiding by the gang’s agreement to keep details of the plan confidential while staff crystallized their agreement into legislative language. Aides said the bill could be filed in early June.

House GOP lawmakers in the group said they were confident that their bill would survive an airing in the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), has already started considering a series of smaller immigration bills on a piecemeal basis.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.), a member of the bipartisan House group, told reporters he was confident that Mr. Goodlatte’s committee would consider the comprehensive bill. Mr. Carter predicted the committee would keep the bipartisan bill in one piece—though he said that because the panel includes some of the most conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in the House, “they might mess it up a little bit.”

A Judiciary Committee aide said Mr. Goodlatte “encourages the bipartisan House working group to keep working toward producing a bill.” The aide also said the panel also planned to continue its “step-by-step approach,” which considers various elements of the immigration system separately.

That piecemeal approach might be discarded later if House Republicans coalesce around the bipartisan bill. For now, the committee is proceeding along both tracks, so that the House has some form of immigration legislation in case support for the broader overhaul falters, according to a senior GOP aide.

A version of this article appeared May 18, 2013, on  The Wall Street Journal.

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