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U.S. House won't follow Senate lead on immigration bill: Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
House Speaker John Boehner holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday his chamber would chart its own path on immigration rather than simply considering a Senate-passed measure, quashing hopes some Democrats had for quickly enacting the landmark legislation.

"While we applaud the progress made by our Senate colleagues, there are numerous ways in which the House will approach the issue differently," Boehner said in a statement.

"We will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes," he added.

The full Senate is expected to start debating an immigration bill next month that aims to lift the threat of deportation for 11 million illegal immigrants and put most of them on a 13-year path to citizenship. Senate leaders hope to hold a vote on the bill by the end of June.

It is unclear if enough House Republicans will embrace the path to citizenship, which many of them call "amnesty" for those who came to the United States illegally or overstayed visas.

The Senate measure got a boost this week when its Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan 13-5 vote, approved the measure that would also strengthen border security and revamp visas for foreigners.

With a group of House negotiators unable so far to produce a bipartisan bill to present to the full House, some Democrats, including No. 2-ranking Representative Steny Hoyer, have suggested the possibility of just taking up the bill the Senate passes this summer.

The Republican-controlled House, which is more conservative than the Democratic-held Senate, is expected to have a tougher time passing an immigration bill this year, even with broad popular support for reform and the growing political clout of Hispanic-Americans, who voted heavily for Democrats in last year's election.

That was evident on Thursday as the eight Republican and Democratic House negotiators met privately for about an hour.

Four years into their negotiations, the group again failed to seal a deal, despite proclamations from some of them last week that an agreement in principle had been reached.

Nor did the group break apart, as some of them had threatened if there were no deal by Thursday. They hope over the next week or so to write legislation that defines what steps newly legalized immigrants would have to take to ensure they do not use any government resources to help cover their healthcare costs - a key Republican demand.

A SMILE, NOT A FROWN

One of the negotiators, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren of California told Reuters the language on healthcare still must be drafted. "I think we agreed not to make comments at this point," she said, adding, "But I have a smile, not a frown, on my face."

If the House is not able to settle on a comprehensive immigration bill, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has vowed to push ahead with a series of individual bills that could become the basis for negotiations with the Senate on final legislation.

Goodlatte unveiled one of those bills on Thursday. It would increase the number of H-1B visas for high-skilled foreign workers, one of the many immigration bills Republican lawmakers have introduced this year.

The bill would increase the number of high-skill visas to 155,000 a year from the current 65,000. It would also double the number of visas for foreign graduates of U.S. universities to 40,000 annually.

The number of high-skill visas is similar to the Senate's immigration bill, which would allow the cap to increase to as much as 180,000 depending on demand and economic needs.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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