In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Democrat Working On House Immigration Bill Says GOP Will Back Citizenship

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AP Photo / Susan Walsh

He praised Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who just that morning delivered a speech announcing his intention to work on an immigration reform bill, for his "broad definitive statement."

He praised Rep.Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the immigration subcommittee, for bringing in so many pro-reform witnesses to hearings that he's "had a hard time distinguishing between who was invited by Democrats and who was invited by Republicans."

He praised Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI), who he said encouraged him to work on an immigration bill "because it's the right thing to do" and told him that "our Catholic faith that we share cannot allow us to create a permanent underclass."

And he praised Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whom he not only credited with helping sell the Senate's immigration plan this year, but for pressuring the White House into halting deportations of young undocumented immigrants by working on his own proposal that would have granted them legal status short of citizenship.

"The White House said 'We think that's a bad idea, this Rubio proposal,'" Gutierrez recalled. "I said you may have a Rubio problem, I have a deportation problem."

If you couldn't guess from the above quotes, Gutierrez is optimistic that a deal on comprehensive immigration reform is coming soon, likely after the March recess. He said he could not get into detail about his group's negotiations, which have largely avoided leaks to the press, but made clear that "my name will not be on any bill that prevents citizenship for those who are legalizing under a comprehensive immigration bill."

According to Gutierrez, there's an "overlap" between the parties on citizenship, articulated by lawmakers like House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), in which newly legalized immigrants would be able to "eventually apply for citizenship without creating a new special path only available [to them]." In other words, they'd go through the same green card and citizenship application process as legal immigrants but be allowed to live and work in the country legally while they awaited approval.

"I have spoken with Republicans, including Paul Ryan and Raul Labrador and Mario Diaz-Balart, and they and I understand that we should not [create] a permanent noncitizen underclass," he said. "I think they agree with me and many of the leading Republicans also agree."

There still are many hurdles left to a bill. Gutierrez noted that negotiations over a guest worker program, an issue that's been cited as a major stumbling block in the Senate, are stil a "thorny issue." But as more and more Republicans struggling with immigration reform come forward to support the basic principles of a bill, his comments are reflective of a growing sense that both parties may have the political running room to pass a major piece of legislation without facing the same backlash they did in previous years.