But they were encouraged by signals from key GOP leaders that the House is willing to move forward on legislation that could produce a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Thursday that his panel is working on four new pieces of legislation dealing with border-control laws. He did not disclose details but emphasized the need to resolve the status of people living in the country illegally.
“We want to do immigration reform right,” Goodlatte told about 70 Hispanic leaders during a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill, adding that he hopes the House can begin considering bills next month.
His remarks boosted the spirits of advocates who have become increasingly fretful that Republicans have been dragging out the process in an effort to kill momentum for a deal.
The Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bipartisan plan in June that features a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally, the key sticking point for many House Republicans.
From the beginning, the chances of a comprehensive deal in the House have been remote. An attempt to replicate the Senate’s broad approach foundered last week when two more House Republicans dropped out of bipartisan talks. Instead, GOP leaders have said they will pursue a series of smaller bills.
Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told immigration advocates in a private conversation this month that the issue remains on the agenda despite a crowded calendar that also includes negotiations on the budget and the debt ceiling, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
“I’m optimistic the House will get to the package” of immigration bills, said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is pushing for a deal. “Indications from Representative Goodlatte and others are that they want to move on immigration, that doing nothing is not an option. I am of the belief, despite reports that immigration reform is dead, that it’s very much alive.”
Goodlatte, whose committee oversees immigration legislation, has said he is open to granting legal status to otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. He and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are reportedly working on a bill that would grant such status to young people who were brought to the country illegally by their parents.
However, Goodlatte has said he does not support a “special path” that would give immigrants who broke the law to enter the country preferential treatment over other foreigners in pursuing citizenship. Once granted legal status, those immigrants could apply for citizenship through existing channels, Goodlatte has said.