House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) became the first member of House GOP leadership to back “legal status” for illegal aliens, telling a Bakersfield, California television station that Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and the rest of the leadership team may follow suit in the coming days.
The third-ranking Republican’s surprise remarks are likely to prompt a major internal debate among House Republicans who are heading to an annual strategy retreat in Maryland next week.
Referring to forthcoming immigration principles crafted by Boehner, McCarthy said, “The principles aren’t combined, written out yet, but in my personal belief, I think it will go with legal status.”
According to Bakersfield’s KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness news, McCarthy said he did not support a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. In the portion of the taped interview shown, McCarthy said “legal status” would “allow you to work, pay your taxes, and others but if you want to become a citizen you have to go through the path. There won’t be amnesty inside it.”
McCarthy said immigration reform is an urgent priority: “People understand that the immigration system today doesn’t work, that you have 42 percent of the people who are here illegally came here legally on a visa.” McCarthy also said, “You have to reform the visa program. The chain migration system doesn’t work. You need a guest workers program.”
Mike Long, a spokesman for McCarthy, told Brietbart News that immigration reform is “contingent upon” enactment of border security.
“First and foremost, Washington must regain the trust of the American people that immigration laws will be enforced. That is why his support for a discussion regarding a pathway to legal status for undocumented people currently in the United States is contingent upon securing the border, adding interior enforcement provisions and reforming our broken visa system,” Long said.
Inside the House Republican conference, the immigration debate has been marked by a lack of trust between leadership and conservative opponents of amnesty. Last year, for example, a debate over whether immigration legislation should follow the so-called “Hastert rule” – which requires the support of the “majority of the majority” – turned into a months-long skirmish between the two factions that ended in Boehner’s solemn oath to uphold the informal rule.
With Boehner having publicly said he would not bring up the comprehensive Senate bill or use smaller piece-by-piece bills to begin a conference committee with the Senate bill, immigration hawks have called on Republicans to insist the enforcement provisions be successfully implemented before other immigration legislation comes under consideration.
In the interview, McCarthy said the House would consider the legislation “section by section” but did not address whether enforcement legislation would need to be implemented, enacted, or just passed by the House before Republicans move on to the next steps.
Asked by Breitbart News what specifically he means that enforcement is “contingent upon” enforcement, then, Long said that debate is too far in the realm of the hypothetical to speak on definitively.
“The ideal situation would be that the President and Senate Democrats move off the notion that their comprehensive bill that includes a pathway to citizenship will become law and instead work with House,” Long said.
House conservatives are already gearing up for an internal fight over the issue. For instance, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said during his remarks to the South Carolina Tea Party Convention in Myrtle Beach this past weekend that he was baffled why Boehner is looking to move on President Obama’s and the Democrats’ top agenda item.
“I’m against facing the Obama and Democrat agenda with regards to immigration reform,” Duncan said. “I don’t know why in the world House Republicans would say ‘we need to pass this.’ I don’t know why in the world they would embrace something that is the Democrat agenda, their number one issue.”
“Guess what? Two percent of Americans — I said two percent — who were polled found immigration reform to be the most important issue,” he continued. “They want jobs and the economy, putting Americans back to work, addressing our spending, addressing the debt–all those take precedence over immigration reform.”
Duncan also specifically called on Republican leaders to ensure that no piece of immigration reform other than interior enforcement and border security is even discussed in Congress until the border is actually secured and the president starts enforcing interior immigration laws.
“On immigration reform, let’s first and foremost secure the border so we can determine who comes into this country,” Duncan said. “Until we secure the border, we shouldn’t even be talking about anything else except maybe visa overstays–people that we gave a permission slip to come here, and they came on a visa, decided they liked America and we knew they would right? They came into America and decided to stay. So why should we allow them to stay?”
“About half of the illegal aliens in this country are visa overstays. So, let’s deal with securing the border first. Then let’s do the easy low-hanging fruit–the people we know their name, the people who overstayed their visa, let’s round them up and send them home,” he explained. “Let’s take that permission slip away from them. Let’s do all that before we talk about anything else, and specifically before we talk about amnesty–which I’m against.”