6 People to Watch in the House Immigration Debate

PHOTO: Boehner
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While there's no guarantee that an immigration reform bill will pass in the Senate, any bill with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants will certainly have a harder road in the House.

The reason: the Senate is controlled by Democrats, who favor citizenship for the undocumented. Among Republicans, who control the House, views are more mixed.

How immigration legislation will fair in the House has a lot to do with Republican leadership, most importantly House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). He's committed to passing an immigration bill, but says the House won't rubber stamp something that comes from the Senate.

Here's a look at Boehner and six other people to watch during the House immigration debate:

PHOTO: boehner
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John Boehner (R-Ohio)

In some ways it makes sense that the fate of an immigration bill will hinge on how Boehner approaches the issue.

He opened the door for the possibility of passing a bill two days after the Republicans lost the presidential election:

"I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the President, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all," he said on ABC's "World News With Diane Sawyer."

That seemed to place him in the same camp as Republican strategists who thought the party needed an image-overhaul with Latino voters, and that immigration was the way to do that.

But he's yet to take a stance on how his chamber should approach immigration legislation, and it's unclear exactly how he'll guide a bill through. Even he seems confused:

"We're not going to be stampeded by the White House or stampeded by the president," Boehner said on May 23. "The Senate is working its will, a lot of good work that's going on over there, but the House will work its will. Don't ask me how, because if I knew I'd certainly tell you, but the House is going to work its will."

That approach might not instill confidence, but it does mean he's someone to watch as legislation nears a vote in the other chamber.

PHOTO: Goodlatte
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Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte oversees immigration legislation. He has a reputation as a border hawk, but he's sent a different message lately.

He's led a series of committee hearings on issues like border security, agricultural workers and families separated by the immigration system. And to the surprise of immigrant rights activists, he rolled out a pretty balanced lineup of witness, and kept the dialogue civil.

Still, he's stopped short of saying he would support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and he's openly criticized the bill in the Senate.

Goodlatte will probably follow whatever internal strategy is laid out by House leadership, but he'll definitely be heard in the debate.

PHOTO: Gutierrez
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Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.)

Chances are if you have followed the immigration debate during the past decade, you're familiar with Gutierrez's name.

The Chicago congressman has long been an outspoken advocate for immigrant rights. He has derided Republicans for years for adopting a get-tough approach on immigration enforcement. But Gutiérrez also hasn't shied away from criticizing President Obama for overseeing record levels of deportations during his five years in the White House.

Gutiérrez is also a member of the bipartisan House Gang of Eight working to put out an immigration reform proposal, and that's put him in an interesting position.

As the immigration task force leader for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Gutiérrez has pushed the group to adopt immigrant-friendly provisions such as a clear pathway to citizenship and family reunification policies. But negotiating with Republicans, who control the House, means that compromise is necessary to reach a deal.

PHOTO: Labrador
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Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho)

For an immigration bill to pass the House, it will likely need the support of Labrador and other Republicans like him. But his idea of immigration reform could be distinctly more conservative than the vision we've seen in the Senate so far.

As part of the bipartisan group of eight representatives working on a bill in the House, Labrador has made healthcare for undocumented immigrants a focus of the negotiations.

"I think [Democrats] just need to accept that the American people are not going to be responsible for the healthcare costs of the people that are here illegally," Labrador said on May 22. "That's been a fundamental issue for me from day one, that it's not going to come out of the pockets of the American people."

The House group appears to be close to a deal on healthcare. But whether they can come up with a bill that has the support of Tea Party-favorites like Labrador could be an indicator of whether immigration reform has a chance of passing this year. And there are likely more sticking points beyond healthcare.

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Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)

When he was Mitt Romney's running mate last year, no one would have mistaken Ryan for an immigration reformer. But Ryan has emerged as an important player in the House immigration talks.

Ryan's friends on the other side of the aisle say that he has long been on the pro-reform side, but that the environment wasn't right for him to speak out.

"He is not new to this issue, or to this debate, or to fostering comprehensive immigration reform," Luis Gutiérrez told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in March. "But I believe, like many in the Republican Party, his voice was shut out."

Ryan is not a member of the House Gang of Eight, but he has played an behind-the-scenes role in advising the talks. It helps that Ryan is close to GOP leadership; he is a respected voice in the party and he has open lines of communication to members who both support and oppose reform.

PHOTO: pelosi
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Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.)

When healthcare reform was the number one issue on Capitol Hill, Pelosi was front and center as Speaker of the House.

Now that Democrats are in the minority, Pelosi's role in the immigration debate won't be as important as it was then. But she remains an influential player, nonetheless.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have reportedly been reluctant to sign off on a provision in the House Gang of Eight proposal related to how undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship will be able to obtain and pay for healthcare.

That's an indication that any bipartisan agreement coming out of the House will have a tough time going places without Pelosi's consent. Even though the GOP runs the show in the House, Pelosi will still be one to watch if and when the lower chamber takes up immigration.

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