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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans took a tentative step toward offering citizenship to some unauthorized immigrants Tuesday, but hit an immediate wall of resistance from the White House on down as Democrats said it wasn't enough.
The dismissive reaction to the GOP proposal to offer eventual citizenship to some immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children underscored the difficulties of finding any compromise in the Republican-led House on the politically explosive issue of immigration.
That left prospects cloudy for one of President Barack Obama's top second-term priorities. Congress is preparing to break for a monthlong summer recess at the end of next week without action in the full House on any immigration legislation, even after the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan bill last month to secure the borders and create a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.
The back-and-forth began hours before the House Judiciary Committee opened a hearing Tuesday afternoon on the question of legal status for immigrants brought here as children. House Republican leaders have embraced offering citizenship to such immigrants, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor is working on a bill toward the goal along with Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte.
They haven't released their bill yet but that didn't stop Democrats from dismissing it even before the hearing began, saying that any solution that doesn't offer citizenship to all 11 million immigrants here illegally falls short.
Over Twitter, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer slammed "the cruel hypocrisy of the GOP immigration plan: allow some kids to stay but deport their parents."
That got a counterattack from Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper.
"If White House opposes effort to give children path to staying in only country they know, how serious are they about immigration reform?" Cooper responded over Twitter.
In fact, Democrats and immigration advocates pushed hard in past years for legislation offering citizenship to immigrants brought as youths. The so-called DREAM Act passed the House in 2010 when it was controlled by Democrats, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.
But now, with a comprehensive solution like the one passed by the Senate in sight, Democrats and outside activists say they won't settle for anything less.
"Times have changed and they demand a comprehensive approach," said Hector Figueroa, an executive board member at the Service Employees International Union.
Democrats and outside advocates are also concerned that the Cantor-Goodlatte bill — tentatively titled the Kids Act — will be narrower in scope than the DREAM Act, which would have offered legal status to people under age 35 who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and had lived here for five years and obtained a high school diploma. Slightly more than 2.1 million immigrants could have qualified, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute.
At the same time, Democrats were attacking Republicans for an apparent turnaround after the House's GOP majority voted in June to overturn an Obama administration policy halting deportations of some immigrants brought to the U.S. as youths. The Obama administration put the policy in place after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act.
"Which is the real Republican Party?" said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted that though he has rejected the Senate bill, House Republicans are committed to dealing with immigration, they just want to do it in a step-by-step and deliberate fashion.
"Nobody has spent more time trying to fix a broken immigration system than I have," Boehner said during a morning press conference.
Several hours later, White House spokesman Jay Carney responded with derision.
"The idea that you can — oh, I don't know — declare yourself to have been more committed than anyone to improve our immigration system and then have nothing to show for it is a little laughable," Carney said.