Demonstrators march against amnesty for illegal aliens in Washington
By Margaret Chadbourn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans will be unlikely to compromise on immigration reform unless U.S. borders are first secured, and the possibility of a broad immigration bill reaching President Barack Obama's desk this year is "clearly in doubt," Representative Paul Ryan said on Sunday.
"Security first, no amnesty, then we might be able to get somewhere," Ryan said on ABC's "This Week."
Immigration reform legislation, which the Senate has already passed, has stalled in the Republican-controlled House. Ryan's comments follow a House document released last week that presents a path toward legal status for 11 million undocumented workers now in the United States.
The plan, rolled out by House Republican leaders, outlines "principles" for immigration reform and embraces an agenda that gives their candidates a campaign message that goes beyond political attacks on Obama.
Asked if Obama would get a bill to sign this year, Ryan replied: "I really don't know the answer to that question. That's clearly in doubt."
It remains unclear if the House principles will advance any further amid deep Republican divisions. The principles are seen as gauging the party's willingness to tackle such a controversial issue during an election year, when all 435 House seats are at stake.
Last June, the Senate passed a comprehensive bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally and tighten border security.
The bill stalled in the House, and some conservative Republicans in both chambers remain staunchly opposed to offering legal status for millions of adults who live in the United States unlawfully.
Obama last week hinted in an interview that he might be open to a plan that would first give undocumented workers legal status, as long as they were not permanently barred from becoming citizens.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the principles offered by the House Republican leadership appeared to represent "pretty good progress." He added: "We feel pretty good that we will get a bill this year."
PATH TO CITIZENSHIP?
Obama and his supporters may soon face a hard decision over whether to shelve the creation of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and instead embrace border enforcement efforts that they have previously criticized.
"The bottom line here is that he (Obama) doesn't want to see an America where we have two permanent classes - citizens and non-citizens," McDonough said.
Ryan said Republicans have made it clear that they will not be forced to compromise with the Senate on a deal and refuse to go to conference committee with the Senate immigration reform bill.
"This is not one of those issues that has a deadline," he said in the ABC interview. Ryan emphasized that securing the U.S.-Mexico border was a crucial first step before changing rules around legal residency.
"We don't know who's coming and going in this country. We don't have control of our borders," he said. "Doing nothing on the security side of this isn't the responsible thing to do."
House leaders must contend with several conservatives who are suspicious of Obama's agenda and are reluctant to give the president a long-sought legislative victory.
"We are still having a debate in our caucus," Ryan said.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," said his party wants to make progress on immigration, "step by step."
"We want to help the situation," Cantor said.
Incumbents facing a primary challenge or a close general election in this year's campaign season may have an incentive to oppose the plan's path to citizenship.
Still, many lawmakers agreed to revamp U.S. policy on immigration after exit polling showed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. The Republican National Committee made it a priority to reach out to minority voters after the election.
Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Republicans should go ahead with immigration reform since it remains the right thing to do and not "because of what some pollster tells us."
(Reporting by Margaret Chadbourn and Thomas Ferraro, editing by Rosalind Russell and Meredith Mazzilli)