WASHINGTON — A group of a half-dozen House members, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, is nearing completion of wide-ranging immigration legislation similar to proposals by Senate negotiators and President Barack Obama, including a pathway to legal immigration status for 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
The group intends to unveil the legislation soon, perhaps around the time of Obama's State of the Union address Feb. 12, according to lawmakers and aides involved. It is likely to face strong resistance from many of the conservative Republicans who dominate the House.
Yet its mere existence is a sign of more interest in immigration legislation in the House than has been evident for some time. Group members and others say that, despite the discomfort of many House Republicans with any effort to adjust illegal immigrants' status, they see glimmers of hope for passage of some kind of immigration package during this session of Congress.
"I've felt a huge sea change, believe it or not, from both parties," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the group. "There are some who will criticize anything no matter what it is as amnesty. There are even some who will label anything as amnesty without even reading a bill or seeing a bill. It's their right to do so. But I think the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats want to get something done, want to fix it."
The group has been meeting in secret off and on for years in various permutations, beginning around the time of the last serious effort on immigration in Congress in 2007, which failed in the Senate. They've drafted legislative language in the past but without ever introducing a bill. They've largely kept their efforts quiet in part to shield members from the likely political blowback from conservatives were their efforts to become public, an aide said.