House Republicans split Tuesday from their counterparts in the Senate on the issue of immigration reform, arguing that a plan to give millions of undocumented immigrants citizenship is as "extreme" as "mass deportation."
Although a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators — including Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona — have agreed to include citizenship in their immigration proposal, conservative members present at Tuesday's Judiciary Committee hearing pushed back repeatedly against the measure, which Republican committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte called "the question of the day."
Speaking directly to Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio and a witness at the hearing, Goodlatte asked, "Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?"
Castro, a rising star in the Democratic party, said he supported a pathway to citizenship, adding, "I don't see that as an extreme option."
"I would disagree with the characterization of that as extreme," Castro said. "The extreme, I would say, to fill that out, would be open borders. Nobody agrees with open borders. Everyone agrees that we need to secure our border."
Other Republicans joined Goodlatte in arguing — often directly to Castro — for a middle ground between deportation and citizenship. Alabama's Rep. Spencer Bachus referred to full citizenship as a "toxic and contentious issue," while Idaho's Rep. Raúl Labrador asked Castro, "If we can find a solution short of a pathway to citizenship, but that's not kicking 12 million people out, why is that not a solution?"
On a conference call with members of the press during the second half of the hearing, immigration advocacy leaders said Republicans at the hearing were out of step with the American people on the issue of citizenship.
"They were trying to set up a false choice between the extremes of mass deportation and a path to citizenship," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, a director at the National Council of La Raza. "To try to paint that rigorous path as amnesty is frankly incorrect."
"You can't blame them for trying," she added. "Mischaracterizing a roadmap to citizenship is just another tactic to stall the debate."
During the hearing, Castro, too, framed the pathway to citizenship as a rigorous one. "The compromise is that this is earned citizenship. One would be fined, one would have to learn English, pay back taxes, and go to the back of the line," he said. "This is a years-long process. And it would be earned. That's an important point to make."