Suddenly, immigration is the buzz word on Capitol Hill. A pair of Republican Senators floated their idea for giving legal status to young illegal immigrants, and the House may vote tomorrow on a visa bill. But KPCC's Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde says the chances of a comprehensive immigration bill passing both the House and Senate remain slim.
Shortly after the election, House Speaker John Boehner seemed to open the door to immigration reform.
“What I'm talking about is a common sense, step by step approach, it would secure our borders, allow us to enforce our laws and fix a broken immigration system.”
LA Congressman Xavier Becerra, a ranking Democrat in the House, says Boehner wasn't the only Republican talking immigration, citing both talk show host Sean Hannity and super PAC leader Karl Rove.
“The question is no longer if. It's when…will we get a solid, sensible bill done? That's the question,” Becerra said.
On Wednesday morning, Becerra and fellow Democrats in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made it clear what "sensible" means to them. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano of El Monte listed the steps undocumented immigrants would take to become legal.
“To learn English and American civics, to pay taxes to contribute fully and legally to our economy, and earn their path to citizenship,” she said.
But citizenship is not acceptable to Republicans. A bill introduced this week by a pair of GOP Senators from border states, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyle of Arizona, would give legal status, but not citizenship, to young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
Many Republicans — including Brian Bilbray of San Diego — say granting citizenship just encourages the next generation of undocumented immigrants to cross the border.
“You can't reward an illegal act and then expect people to think you really don't want them to do it,” said Bilbray.
But Bilbray, head of the conservative House Immigration Reform Caucus, lost his bid for re-election. So did Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley, who has been called, "one of the Top Ten Illegal Immigration Hawks" in Congress. Congressman Becerra says they weren't the only hard-liners to go.
“Do the numbers bode better for a reform within the House of Representatives? I think they do,” said Becerra. “Because I think the really virulent anti-immigrant voices in the House and the Senate, I think have diminished.”
Becerra says the GOP is opening the door to talk of immigration reform because of political reality.
“Undoubtedly I think the Republicans are looking at the electoral map and recognizing that they are committing political suicide by driving Latinos and quite honestly, communities that have large immigrant based populations away from the Republican party,” said Becerra.
Officially, Democrats say they are open to negotiation on what would be in a comprehensive immigration bill. But they draw the line in the sand over citizenship, saying granting legal status alone would create a permanent underclass in America, something that hasn't worked in Germany.
And they are united against a GOP visa bill expected to be voted on Friday. The measure increases the number of visas for highly educated workers — something Democrats support. But it doesn't contain provisions to help the workers' families. It's highly unlikely that any bill will get to the President's desk until the new Congress takes office in January.