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Boehner draws another hard line on immigration reform

House Speaker John Boehner says he will not allow any House-passed immigration legislation to be blended with the Senate’s sweeping reform bill, further quashing the chances of comprehensive immigration reform legislation being signed into law anytime soon.

“We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday.  

Immigration reform advocates had hoped that a “conference”- or legislative negotiation – between House and Senate lawmakers could incorporate ideas from both chambers into compromise legislation that might be palatable to those who say a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – or at least legalization – is essential to fixing the country’s broken immigration system.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner talks about the status of immigration reform legislation in the House.

But some conservatives had been pushing against House passage of any immigration legislation, arguing that Senate Democrats would use the conference to inject more liberal policies and then force Republicans in the House to stomach changes they say are unfair to those who came to the country legally.

The GOP speaker has pledged for months not to bring the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill, passed with bipartisan support in the upper chamber this summer, up for a vote. That legislation would allow for a lengthy path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants – something that many Republicans decry as “amnesty" that could hurt job-seeking Americans.  

Republican lawmakers have instead been working on smaller pieces of legislation that would address border security, employment verification, and possibly a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.  Boehner refused to say Wednesday whether he plans to bring any of those measures to a vote before the end of the year.

Boehner pointed to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., as the  chamber’s point person on the legislative efforts, saying Goodlatte “is working with our members and across the aisle on developing a set of principles for us to deal with this issue.”

He also dismissed the notion that Republicans are delaying reform legislation to focus on problems with the new health care law.

Charles Dharapak / AP

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., which has responsibility over matters relating to healthcare, speaks about President Obama's health care law after Republican lawmakers met at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013.

"We need to go about this in a way that the American people and our members can absorb,” he said.

The apparent dead end for comprehensive reform has not deterred immigration proponents, who have kept pressure on House leaders despite the dim outlook for legislation this year.

Hours before addressing reporters, Boehner was confronted by immigrant children while he was eating breakfast at a Capitol Hill diner. In a video released by the organization Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), Boehner told the protesters he is “trying to find some way to get this thing done.”

The White House has kept public pressure up as well.

President Barack Obama is meeting with faith leaders Wednesday to discuss the need for reform, and Vice President Joe Biden will give an address on the issue Thursday in Atlanta, Ga.

Frank Thorp contributed to this story.

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