House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement Wednesday that his chamber would not deal with comprehensive immigration reform in what remains of the current congressional session drew cheers from conservatives and criticism from those who want to give undocumented immigrants a chance to legalize their status.
Republicans appeared to interpret Boehner’s statement as a sign that the House would focus on beefing up border security and interior enforcement.
“The Speaker’s decision clears the way for the House to pursue targeted immigration bills designed to protect and enhance the interests of the American people,” said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors strict immigration policies.
“There is universal agreement that we must secure our borders, prevent people from overstaying their visas, and implement a universal worker verification system that protects American jobs.”
In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill that included provisions for increasing the number of border patrol agents, expanding foreign worker visas and providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet a particular set of criteria.
In the House, where Republicans hold the majority, conservatives have vowed not to rubber-stamp the Senate's version, or approve any bill that includes a path to legal status for those who are here illegally. Many Republicans in the House prefer a step-by-step approach to immigration reform, with an emphasis on enforcement.
“There is no reason why Congress cannot make progress on these popular and necessary measures as we move into an election year,” Stein said. “As the House moves forward with its piecemeal approach, it is also important that leadership rejects amnesty and massive increases in immigration.”
Advocates of more lenient immigration laws assailed Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and vowed not to stop pressing for a path to legal status.
"No doubt House Speaker Boehner and GOP Whip McCarthy did not get the
memo,” said Angelica Salas, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA. “The bells for immigration reform will toll only and when millions of undocumented workers living in the U.S. win an opportunity to emerge from the shadows that keep them from becoming full contributors to our nation's progress."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the speaker had kowtowed to the most conservative members of his party. He said Boehner should have worked to bring a House immigration reform measure, HR 15, that has bipartisan support to a vote.
“It is clear from Boehner’s decision that a minority of anti-immigrant House Republicans holds the power, and are preventing a solution to one of our nation’s most pressing problems,” Trumka said. “In fact, if the bipartisan House bill HR 15 was put before the House today, it would no doubt pass.”
“The AFL-CIO will not give up this fight until comprehensive immigration reform is passed in the Congress,” Trumka said.
NumbersUSA head Roy Beck, who has been a major force in blocking immigration reform efforts, claimed credit and said he would not rest on his laurels. He thanked supporters of his group for bombarding Boehner and other Republicans with phone calls and emails.
“You have done this primarily by telling your own U.S. representative why that promise would be so important to America's struggling workers,” Beck said in an email, “why it is so important that Congress not give lifetime work permits to 11 million illegal aliens and to more than 20 million other foreign citizens over the next ten years.”
"The pressure on Boehner has worked well," the message continued, "as he has steadily backed farther away from some of the bold statements he made earlier in the year about wanting to pass big immigration legislation this year.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.