* Hearing marks shift by Republicans
* Children balk at House Republican plan
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday coalesced around the idea of legalizing 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 Republicans are bucking their traditional position of opposing citizenship for undocumented foreigners, saying those children should be given a reprieve.
"They had no input into their parents' decision to bring the family to the U.S. illegally," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said at a hearing to examine the issue. "They surely don't share the culpability of their parents," he said.
Goodlatte is working with Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, 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 unlikely they will do so before members hear from their constituents during the month-long August break.
Nor have they provided details on their bill or said how it might differ from the Senate's treatment of these children as part of a larger immigration bill.
At the House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Republican after Republican spoke about how it was unfair to lump the undocumented youth with their parents, who broke the law when they crossed the border illegally.
Republican Representative Jeff Denham of California suggested that the undocumented children be required to serve in the military in order to earn legal status in the United States.
Republican Representative Ted Poe of Texas called them special children and said they should be treated in a special way that would bring them into society because they did not have the intent to break the law.
The Republican chairman of the immigration subcommittee, Trey Gowdy, said the children who were brought to the United States have not committed a crime.
Of the estimated 11 million foreigners living in the country illegally, around 2 million entered the United States under the age of 16, experts have said.
The hearing was stacked with witnesses sympathetic to the undocumented youth, a sign of how Republicans' positions have shifted from the last time Washington debated overhauling the immigration system during the George W. Bush administration.
Democratic lawmakers said they recognized that Republicans had made significant progress and complimented them for holding conversations about possible legalization plans. However, Democrats said it was not enough and noted that Congress had been working on versions of bills to legalize undocumented youths for a decade.
Also known as DREAMers, the children of illegal immigrants 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.
"Our parents sacrificed everything for our future and we will not leave them behind," said 29-year-old Cristina Jimenez, who moved to the United States from Ecuador with her parents when she was 13.
More than 40 DREAMers were at the hearing.
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.