WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that comprehensive immigration reform would be a priority in the next Congress, but on Friday declined to say whether he would include a central tenet of most plans: a path to citizenship.
"I'm not going to get into any of the details of how you would get there," he told reporters at a press conference. "It's just time to get the job done."
Reporters asked Boehner twice whether he endorsed the idea, both times receiving little detail from the House speaker. The issue of a pathway to citizenship will be among the biggest debates as Congress works on a bipartisan immigration deal. Democrats support plans that would allow some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the country to work toward citizenship. The Dream Act, a formerly bipartisan bill that failed in the Senate in 2010, also would allow undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens.
But the most recent move from Republicans on undocumented immigration, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) never-introduced plan to allow some undocumented young people to remain in the country, would not allow eventual citizenship.
It's a key difference: reform advocates argue that disallowing undocumented immigrants from eventual citizenship could create an underclass of people in the country, but others argue it might encourage more unauthorized immigration.
A full effort on immigration reform won't begin in earnest until after President Barack Obama begins his second term in January. Democratic sources said Thursday that they hope to see a Republican plan, now that more members of the party are coming forward in support of reform.
So far, Boehner doesn't seem to have many details ironed out.
"I'm not talking about a 3,000-page bill," he said at the press conference. "What I'm talking about is a common-sense, step-by-step approach would secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws and fix a broken immigration system. But again, on an issue this big, the president has to lead. I think members on both sides of the aisle want to resolve this issue. The president -- president's going to have to lead here."
Mike McAuliff contributed reporting.