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Thumbs Up, Maybe, on GOP Immigration Plan

Image: Families Reunite At US-Mexico Border Fence

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 17: A U.S. Border Patrol agent speaks to visitors to the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park on November 17, 2013 in San Diego, California. The U.S. Border Patrol allows people on the American side to visit others on the Tijuana, Mexico side through the fence on weekends, although under supervision from Border Patrol agents. Access to the fence from the Tijuana, Mexico side is 24/7. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

Immigration activists welcomed the immigration reform principles the GOP House issued Thursday, but some immediately criticized their lack of a promise of eventual citizenship.

"We welcome the movement (on immigration), but these principles fall far short of our families' aspirations," said Kica Matos, spokeswoman for Fair Immigration Reform Movement. "Citizenship must be a core principle of any immigration reform because it is who we are as a nation."

The Republicans released the basic principles to point their members where they want them to go as they hash out more bills on immigration reform. Four bills covering high-skilled and farmworker immigration, state and local law enforcement, worker verification to permit employment in the U.S. and border security have been approved in House committees.

The principles stated there would be "no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws" because it would be unfair to those who entered the U.S. or remained legally. But the estimated 11 million in the U.S. illegally could live here legally if they admit they broke the law, pass "rigorous" background checks, pay "significant" fines and taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics and be capable of supporting their families "without access to public benefits."

Although immigrants living here illegally are barred from most public benefits, many have American citizen children who are eligible for such things as food stamps, Medicaid and health care coverage.

The opportunity to live here legally will be a key area of debate as some in the party are adamant that granting any legal status diminishes U.S. immigration laws.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has relentlessly pursued immigration reform in Congress for years, said the Republican principles move the nation closer to reform.

"We've gone from Republicans saying 'self-deportation' and 'veto the DREAM Act' to saying we need bipartisan solutions in just about a year," Gutierrez said.

Tamar Jacoby, who heads the businesses and immigration-centered Immigration Works USA, called the principles a historic breakthrough.

"The principles are sure to spark a vigorous debate in the House," but "strong voices from across the Republican spectrum agree with the fundamental point – the nation, and the GOP, need to act on immigration," Jacoby said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who has worked to bring House members from both parties to an agreement on immigration issues said giving priority to border security and law enforcement requirements, as the principles do, would ease the way to a compromise.

"We have a historic opportunity to fix an immigration system that everyone recognizes is clearly broken," he said.

However some expressed skepticism that the GOP would follow through. Ben Monterroso, Mi Familia Vota's executive director, rejected the "blueprint" label for the principles. Instead he said they were "a way for the Speaker to test whether his team will follow ..."

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sprinkled his comments with some sarcasm, saying he was glad to see House Republicans act move forward _ after seven months of delays and "we welcome them realizing the status quo is unacceptable."