Top House Republicans are beginning to work on legislation that would establish ways for the children of undocumented immigrants to become legal residents and possibly U.S. citizens.

House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.). (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) is working with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on the plan, but aides say that the pair have yet to write legislative language.

On the surface, their plans seem to be in the spirit of the Democratic-backed DREAM Act that was defeated in December 2010, and to language regarding the children of undocumented immigrants that was included in the bipartisan Senate immigration bill approved last month. Both of those plans would have set such children on course for legal residency or citizenship if they met certain educational or military service requirements.

Cantor and Goodlatte voted against the DREAM Act when it was brought up for a vote in the House.

Goodlatte said in a statement Friday that he is working with Cantor "on a bill to provide a legal status to those who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children by their parents. These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States."

But Goodlatte added that the bill is one component of the House's ongoing review of immigration laws, an effort that "must improve our legal immigration programs, strengthen border security and the interior enforcement of our immigration laws, and find a way to fairly deal with those who are currently in the country unlawfully."

Cantor expressed an eagerness to address the status of children of illegal immigrants in a February speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

During his remarks, Cantor said Congress "must balance respect for the rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally, with care for the people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life, and contribute to America."

"A good place to start is with the kids," Cantor said. "One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home."

Aides said Friday that Cantor and Goodlatte haven't decided when they'd like to introduce the bill nor who might co-sponsor it and shepherd it through the House.

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