John Boehner may need a little help from Nancy Pelosi to move immigration reform forward. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg
John Boehner may need a little help from Nancy Pelosi to move immigration reform forward. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

House Republicans are trying to cobble together immigration-reform legislation. Their success could depend on the Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.

House Speaker John Boehner is pushing his caucus to embrace such measures. The House plan, however, wouldn't go as far as the Senate-passed bill, which offers a pathway to citizenship for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants. House Republicans will gather at a retreat this week, where they are expected to introduce legislative principles or standards.

Among other provisions, the House plan will probably offer citizenship to so-called Dreamers -- those who were brought to the U.S. as children. For the others, however, Republicans will offer legalization that doesn’t contain a special pathway to citizenship. The speaker, an Ohio Republican, hopes that will assuage some of the anti-immigration sentiment within his party. He's also vowed that the multiple proposals being considered will be taken up separately, rather than as a comprehensive bill, so that each would require support from a majority of Republicans to be considered.

Still, the legislation will need Democratic votes, and Boehner may have to fudge on the "Hastert rule," a party agreement that calls for legislation to move forward only with support from the majority of Republicans. That means any legislation would require even more Democratic votes.

But Pelosi has told colleagues that her party's help would depend on how flexible Republicans are on the issue of citizenship. Democrats, and most Hispanic groups, say a permanent second-class status for immigrants is unacceptable.

Proponents of reform, however, say it's possible to tweak current law so that, under a Republican initiative, almost half of the 10 million adult undocumented immigrants would have a pathway to citizenship. If so, Democratic reform advocates such as Representatives Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Zoe Lofgren of California would urge their party to go along. If the Republicans draw a harder line, Democratic support may be missing.

Republicans are under pressure from the right, too. In an editorial this week, the National Review, an influential conservative publication, called upon Boehner and House Republicans to do nothing on immigration.

Ultimately, any action will have to be reconciled with the Senate-approved bill. This has led some on the party's political right to charge that the speaker, despite his promises, is setting a trap that will ultimately lead to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Although House Republicans are likely to agree on benchmarks or standards this week, any floor action is at least three months away, as the details are thrashed out.

(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.)

To contact the writer of this article: Al Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Alex Bruns at abruns@bloomberg.net.