Republicans in the House of Representatives on Tuesday will consider granting citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, marking their first step toward dealing with the millions of undocumented foreigners living in the United States.
Under pressure from members of their own party, religious groups and Hispanics, House Republican leaders are bucking their traditional position of opposing citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, and Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, are working on legislation to give young illegal immigrants a way to earn citizenship, which is similar to a Democratic bill they voted against in 2010.
Cantor and Goodlatte have not said when they will introduce the legislation and it is not clear they will do so before the month-long August break. Instead, one of Goodlatte's Judiciary subcommittees will hold a hearing on Tuesday to consider how to provide the youth with legal status.
But the children of illegal immigrants, also known as DREAMers, have already rejected the House Republican approach, saying it will tear their families apart and discriminate against the rest of the undocumented population in the United States. More than 50 DREAMers were planning to attend the hearing.
Representative Xavier Becerra, a member of House Democratic leadership and part of a bipartisan group that has been trying to introduce immigration legislation, complimented Republicans for holding conversations about possible legalization plans.
But he said it was not enough. The children brought here illegally by their parents "will tell you, 'The last thing we want is to have America tell us we're OK and tell our parents to go away,'" he told reporters.
House Republicans agree with Democrats that the country's immigration system does not work. But they are deeply divided on how to change the laws and are opposed to giving the estimated 11 million undocumented foreigners a way to earn citizenship, likening it to rewarding lawbreakers.
The Senate, with the endorsement of 14 Republicans, has already passed a comprehensive immigration bill that would increase work visas, spend $46 billion to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border and provide a 13-year path to citizenship for the illegal immigrant population.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is considering a possible route for forcing House action on the Senate's bill. Speaking to a small group of political donors late on Monday, Pelosi outlined a strategy that would require a minimum of 25 Republicans to break ranks with their party and join Democrats to advance the Senate bill in the House.
It is a strategy that traditionally has been difficult for the minority party in the House to pull off successfully.