NEW: House Republicans argue for and against legal status for undocumented immigrants
NEW: GOP legislators say work on immigration measures will likely go on for months
Former President Bush calls for a solution in a rare comment on a political issue
GOP leaders refuse to hold a vote on a Senate version that passed with bipartisan support
Immigration reform entered an uncertain new phase on Wednesday as House Republicans signaled some willingness to compromise with President Barack Obama and Democrats but rejected a Senate-passed bill and insisted they would take their time drafting their own version.
Following more than two hours of talks on how to proceed, GOP legislators said the biggest question was whether to give the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States a path to eventual citizenship, as provided by the Senate measure.
Participants in the Republican caucus meeting described a 50-50 split over the undocumented immigrant issue, with more consensus on the need to produce some kind of legislation to show the party’s commitment to fixing a broken system and addressing concerns of Hispanic Americans – the nation’s largest minority demographic.
Despite the divisions on the undocumented immigrant issue, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia told the GOP members that children living illegally in the United States through no fault to their own should receive legal status.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte said he and fellow Virginia Republican Cantor were working together on a bill focused on children, which is a priority of Democrats pushing for immigration reform.
At the same time, House GOP leaders made clear they intended to slow the process down by tackling individual components of the broad measure passed by the Democratic-led Senate last month with bipartisan support.
Prospect of political attacks
That means taking up smaller bills on specific provisions, such as border security and employment verification measures, in coming months while also seeking a compromise within the caucus on providing legal status for undocumented immigrants.
House Speaker John Boehner warned his caucus that Republicans would face political attacks if they failed to move legislation, according to several GOP sources in the room.