House Group to Draft U.S. Immigration Legislation by June

A bipartisan House group agreed to start preparing legislation to revise U.S. immigration law and present it “as soon as possible,” said Representative Raul Labrador, one of the lawmakers.

The group tentatively resolved a dispute over what health benefits would be available to undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship, Labrador told reporters in Washington yesterday. The Idaho Republican said the group will craft legislative language “to make sure that we have a meeting of the minds.”

“We are all positive that we can move forward,” Labrador said. A Democrat in the eight-member group, Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, said, “We’re going to get there. There’s going to be justice done to our immigrant community.”

The House negotiating group reached an agreement in principle on other aspects of a proposal May 16. Like legislation approved this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House group would offer a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to a House aide who asked not to be identified.

The immigrants would be eligible for citizenship after 15 years under the House plan, the aide said. The Senate proposal would allow citizenship after 13 years.

House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders said in a statement yesterday that the House “will not simply take up and accept” the Senate measure. “The House will work its will and produce its own legislation,” they said.

Health Care

On health care, Republicans have said they don’t want U.S. taxpayers to subsidize benefits for undocumented immigrants, while Democrats are concerned about blocking their access to subsidized coverage in case of emergencies, congressional aides from both parties said on condition of anonymity.

Labrador said the group agreed that undocumented immigrants in provisional status must pay for their own health care or buy health insurance. Failing to pay health-care bills would trigger deportation, he said.

The group also clarified that “the law already requires that in an emergency situation no one can be denied health care,” he said.

“There are legitimate issues to be discussed” about implementing the Republican demand of not increasing government spending by legalizing the undocumented immigrants, Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters earlier this week.

Labrador cautioned that legislative language has to be written and that disagreements could still arise. He said it would take one to two weeks to draft a bill. Lawmakers are heading to their home states for a one-week Memorial Day recess.

Senate Proposal

The Senate Judiciary panel approved that chamber’s proposal this week and the full Senate will debate the measure, S.744, in June.

“While we applaud the progress made by our Senate colleagues, there are numerous ways in which the House will approach the issue differently,” Boehner and the other House Republican leaders said.

Gutierrez said in a statement yesterday that the House must produce its own bipartisan bill because that “has the best chance of passing the House and the best chance of producing a good immigration reform proposal” in a conference committee with a Senate bill.

“A bipartisan process in the House allows Republicans and Democrats to have their input and arrive at a workable solution to fixing our broken immigration system,” Gutierrez said.

The House negotiators are Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas, and Labrador, along with Democrats Zoe Lofgren and Xavier Becerra of California, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Gutierrez.

Separately, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, has begun introducing a series of measures with the goal of changing the immigration system through a piecemeal approach, instead of one comprehensive plan.

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