WASHINGTON — It's crunch time for Rep. Steve King in his months-long effort to line up opposition to any immigration bill.
House Republicans will hold a key meeting this morning to determine how they will handle legislation to overhaul the country's dysfunctional immigration system.
King, the outspoken Republican from northwest Iowa, said he believes he has scores of his colleagues on his side and will try to boost those numbers at the meeting.
“There's no question that the momentum is on the side of those who want to defend the rule of law,” King said.
He said he would like to have a few minutes at the start of the meeting to frame the issue but he was unsure whether he would be able to do so.
His message to the rest of the caucus will be that any proposals, even ones focused on enforcement, must be defeated because they could lead toward a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
“You don't give citizenship away,” King said. “It is a precious thing.”
Congressional Democrats said Tuesday they won't agree to any immigration bill that lacks a way to citizenship. Proponents of that pathway say it's the only way to bring people out of the shadows and integrate them into the rest of society. They also say it's the most fair way to treat those who are only looking for a better life.
That stance met quick resistance from House Republicans.
“When the bar has been set, as it has been by some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, that it's full-fledged citizenship for all 11 million or nothing, because that's so overtly political, they may end up with nothing,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee.
Gowdy favors a citizenship path for people brought to the country as youths, as well as for military veterans and certain others who've lived here for years and contributed to society.
But King says even that is a slippery slope.
“Once you cross that line, you can't get your virtue back again,” King said.
Other House Republicans are open to granting guest worker or some other legal status to people now here illegally but would stop short of citizenship.
But Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, insisted that Democrats will accept nothing less.
House GOP leaders are deliberating how to deal with the immigration bill after the Senate passed its White House-backed legislation on a bipartisan vote of 68-32. The Senate bill spends $46 billion to secure the border, requires employers to check their workers' legal status, expands visa programs to allow hundreds of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country, and establishes a 13-year path to citizenship for those here illegally, provided that they pay fines and meet certain conditions.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.