House Republicans on Thursday released a document that laid out their vision for immigration reform legislation, raising hopes that a bill could finally become reality in 2014 after years of political rancor and deadlock.
Although much of the document seemed to mirror a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in late June -- which House Republicans had quickly pronounced "dead on arrival" -- the biggest difference was that only illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children would be eligible for a path to citizenship.
Those who entered the nation illegally as adults "could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)," the GOP statement said.
The reaction of President Obama and congressional Democrats, however, was generally upbeat.
"I actually think we have a good chance of getting immigration reform," Obama, who in Tuesday's State of the Union speech had renewed his call for action on immigration, told CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday.
"Democrats are eager to work to see if we can get a good bill," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, the top Democrat on the House immigration subcommittee, told this newspaper Thursday. "We've made it clear both publicly and in countless private conversations that we are willing to work with" Republicans.
The GOP leadership's statement was distributed to House Republicans on Thursday and quickly leaked by the rank-and-file to the media.
The document doesn't call for comprehensive reform. Instead, the leadership is proposing "a step-by-step, common-sense approach."
Border security and interior enforcement are seen as paramount. But the Republicans also support a modernized visa system that tracks when foreigners enter and leave the country; electronic employment verification and workplace enforcement; and reforms to visa and green-card allocations that further America's economic interests.
Still, conservative hard-liners inside Congress and out are already stepping up resistance to anything that could be deemed "amnesty," while immigration advocates are insisting on a citizenship path for all illegal immigrants.
And even on issues in which there seems agreement, the devil will be in the details, both sides say.
For example, the parties might agree on the need for a work verification system, but how will they iron out the privacy concerns inherent in providing so much data to the government? Another question: How will legal immigration be overhauled to best meet modern needs for skilled and unskilled workers, while also protecting U.S. workers?
Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, director of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a former special assistant to President Obama on immigration and other issues, said reform will be "extraordinarily complex to craft and to implement."
But he also believes "immigration reform is more likely now than it has been in decades," given the public demand and both sides' awareness that it's an economic and social necessity. "Many people on both sides will be primed to keep their eyes on the big picture."
Lanhee Chen, a Stanford lecturer and Hoover Institution fellow who was 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's policy director, agreed.
"This is as good an opportunity as any we've seen recently," provided both sides are willing to temper their expectations, he said.
Some on the side favoring sweeping reform are clearly unhappy with what they're hearing from both sides of the aisle.
Frank Seo, who was brought from South Korea to the U.S. illegally as a teenager, is angry about Obama's aggressive deportation policy yet even angrier that Republicans might allow citizenship for so-called Dreamers like him but only "legal status" for their parents.
"I find that idea to be completely inhuman and immoral," said Seo, 25, of San Francisco, an activist with Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education whose parents live in Los Angeles.
Denia Perez, a Dreamer living in Oakland whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico City when she was 11 months old, called any such two-tiered plan "a way to divide the immigration-reform movement."
"Parents want the best for their kids, so mine would be very happy for me," said Perez, 25, whose undocumented parents live in Santa Rosa. "But how can you penalize the parents of the kids?"
Two California House Republicans -- Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, and David Valadao, R-Hanford -- voiced support for a path to citizenship last year by co-sponsoring the House Democrats' bill. They represent Central Valley districts where immigration is dominated by agriculture, which has a pressing need for labor from now-illegal immigrants.
Yet other Republicans and advocacy groups were pushing back even before the GOP leadership's statement was made public.
"Amnesty cannot be undone," Katie Patrykus, development director of the nonprofit Californians for Population Stabilization, wrote in a fundraising email Wednesday. "It's real, actual people that are granted citizenship to your country forever. Your country, the one that is already way too crowded with way too few jobs to support middle-class families. And, from past history, you can bet that California will suffer disproportionately."