Washington: As Congress wrestles with immigration legislation; a central question is whether the 11 million immigrants already in the United States illegally should get a path to citizenship.
The answer from a small but growing number of House Republicans is "yes," just as long as it`s not the "special" path advocated by Democrats and passed by the Senate.
"There should be a pathway to citizenship not a special pathway and not no pathway," Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz told ABC 4 Utah after speaking at a recent town hall meeting in his Utah district.
"But there has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn`t."
Many House Republicans say people who illegally crossed the border or overstayed their visas should not be rewarded with a special, tailor-made solution that awards them a prize of American citizenship, especially when millions are waiting in line to attempt the process through current legal channels.
It`s far from clear, however, what a path to citizenship that`s not a special path to citizenship might look like, or how many people it might help.
The phrase means different things to different people, and a large number of House Republicans oppose any approach that results in citizenship for people who are now in the country illegally.
Some lawmakers say such immigrants should be permitted to attain legal worker status, but stop there and never progress to citizenship. That`s a solution Democrats reject.
Nonetheless, advocates searching for a way ahead on one of President Barack Obama`s second-term priorities see in the "no special path to citizenship" formulation the potential for compromise.
"I think there`s a lot of space there," said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. "And that`s why I`m optimistic that once they start grappling more with details, that`s when things start getting more real."
Once Congress returns from its summer break the week of Sept. 9, the focus will be on the Republican-led House.
The Democratic-controlled Senate in June passed a far-reaching bill with some Republican support that includes a big, new investment in border security and remakes the system for legal immigration, in addition to creating a 13-year path to citizenship for those already here illegally.
House Republicans have rejected the Senate approach, promising to proceed instead with narrowly focused bills, starting with border security. No action is expected on the House floor until late fall, at earliest, because of pressing fiscal deadlines that must be dealt with first.