Barbour ‘very comfortable’ with path to citizenship, but short on specifics

March 20, 2013

Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (R) voiced support Wednesday for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but offered few details about what the route should look like.

“I am very comfortable with a path to citizenship,” Barbour told reporters at a Bipartisan Policy Center briefing. “It should be more strenuous than the path for people who come here under the regular rules.”

Barbour is part of a high-profile bipartisan group of former government officials that formed to help guide Congress through the process of reforming the nation’s immigration laws. Along with Barbour, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisnero, and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D) are leading the effort. Rendell joined Barbour in meeting with reporters Wednesday.

The two former governors agreed that passing reform could be a lengthy process that is likely to extend beyond the summer congressional recess.

“There are a lot of issues, a lot of which don’t get written about in the press,” said Barbour. “And to me, it’s a little bit overly optimistic to be talking about what we are going to get done this spring or before the August recess.”

Rendell said he was hopeful lawmakers could get a bill done by the end of the year.

“If I were someone running for the Senate, Democrat or Republican … I would want this issue to be decided before the clock ticks to 2014,” said Rendell.

If a bill first passes the Democratic-controlled Senate, Rendell predicted, the likeliest route to passage in the GOP-controlled House would be with the support of more Democrats than Republicans, should House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) allow such a vote to move forward.

The idea of a pathway to citizenship has proven to be politically tricky for the GOP. Two Republicans widely viewed as potential 2016 presidential candidates – former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have recently offered finely tuned views which they’ve had to subsequently clarify.

While Barbour expressed general support for a pathway to citizenship, he declined to get specific, saying he didn’t want to eliminate any ideas as his group moves forward with its work. He offered a broad appraisal of what he couldn’t support in a pathway to citizenship, cautioning that the process shouldn’t move too fast and shouldn’t disadvantage immigrants who’ve pursued the legal immigration process.

“If it was, 'go get at the front of the line of all the people who have been in line trying to go through the regular method,' yeah, I wouldn’t be comfortable with that,” Barbour said.

Rendell said “there won’t be a bill without some pathway to citizenship."

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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