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Key GOP House member will support legalization, not citizenship, for undocumented

Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) says he supports legalization, but not citizenship, for undocumented workers.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) says he supports legalization, but not citizenship, for undocumented workers.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

California’s top Republican in Congress has finally gone on the record, saying he supports legalization — but not citizenship — for undocumented immigrants.

Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has been largely silent on what kind of reforms he’d support. But Republican leaders have been working behind closed doors on a set of immigration “principles” that will form the basis of reform legislation.

Late Tuesday, McCarthy told Bakersfield television station KBAK/KBFX that a path to citizenship isn’t in the cards. “The principles aren’t combined, written out yet. In my personal belief, I think it’ll go with legal status." 

McCarthy says legalization would protect the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. That's the same argument made by GOP Congressman Darrell Issa of Temecula, who is preparing to introduce a bill that reportedly would include legalization, but not citizenship.

A number of other California Republican Congressman have staked out differing positions on the immigration debate. Central Valley GOP members Jeff Denham and David Valadao say they support a pathway to citizenship. They are going against the grain of most Republicans, in part because they represent districts with large Latino populations. 

Democrats in Congress are generally united on citizenship as a necessary part of immigration reform. But at least one California Democrat is willing to support legalization. Chula Vista Congressman Juan Vargas says if Democrats are told “point blank there’s no way that citizenship will pass, well then aren’t we just fooling ourselves?”

McCarthy says the GOP immigration principles will also include a guest worker program and visa reform and will be passed through the House piecemeal.

House Republicans are expected to debate the set of principles at their annual retreat later this month.