WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- House Republicans cast doubt on a citizenship path for the United States' 11 million undocumented immigrants, with some calling for legal residency and no more.
"Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?" House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asked during the first of several hearings on immigration reform.
He asked the question of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a hearing witness.
Castro, a rising Hispanic star in the Democratic Party, said he didn't see a pathway to citizenship as "an extreme option," pointing out Congress previously chose that option and argued it has worked.
"I would disagree with that characterization of that as the extreme," Castro said. "The extreme I would say just to fill that out, would be open borders. Nobody agrees with open borders. Everyone agrees that we need to secure our border."
He said he saw compromise as "a recognition that a path to citizenship will be earned citizenship," meaning illegal immigrants would be required to learn English and pay fines and back taxes before they could become citizens.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of a bipartisan group of House members discussing immigration reform proposals, said undocumented immigrants generally do not care much about being a U.S. citizen.
"They're not clamoring for it. It's only the activists here in Washington, D.C., who keep clamoring for it," he said.
Labrador, who was born in Puerto Rico, said undocumented immigrants simply want legal status.
"They want to be treated with respect, they want to be able to come out of the shadows and they want a program where they feel that when they are crossing the border they're not going to be detained at the border," he said.
"I've practiced immigration law for 15 years and I've dealt with thousands and thousands of people, and not one of them said, 'I need a pathway to citizenship,'" Labrador said.
Some Republicans said they wanted to break immigration legislation into several smaller bills.
This would let them deal with the issues around highly skilled immigrants and farm workers without addressing potential citizenship, The New York Times said.
But Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said the only way of reforming immigration law is through comprehensive legislation.
"Why don't we just get the skilled labor part done first?" Richmond asked rhetorically. "Well, politically, and just being very practical about it, if we got the skilled labor part done first, do you think we would ever come behind it and finish the job? I think it has to be a comprehensive approach or we'll never get to the hard part."
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