Washington (CNN) - After dodging the issue for months, House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday took a position on citizenship for undocumented immigrants, saying Congress must deal with the children of those who are in the United States illegally.
"This is about basic fairness. These children were brought here on no accord of their own. And frankly, they are in a very difficult position. And I think many of our members believe that this issue needs to be addressed," Boehner said at the weekly press conference with House GOP leaders.
Boehner has made it clear the House will not take up the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate, which did provide a path to citizenship, but the speaker has repeatedly sidestepped the issue of whether he could support any sort of legalization proposal.
Although Boehner did finally weigh in on one component of reform, he would not say how the House would ultimately address the broader issue of the 11 million undocumented workers currently in the United States. But he did repeat earlier comments that he believed addressing the status of those here illegally was part of the overall problem Congress needs to tackle.
"We are trying to be deliberative in terms of how we deal with all of these issues, both fixing the problem with border security and enforcement, how to fix a broken legal immigration system, and yes – we've got the problem with those who are here who are undocumented," Boehner said.
Most House Republicans oppose allowing eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country. But at a meeting last week of all House Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested that children fall into a special category and shouldn't be penalized for their parents' decision to break the law.
According to several members who attended the closed door session, many agreed with that approach. The details are still unclear, but Cantor and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, are drafting legislation that provides some type of process permitting citizenship for these children.
On Wednesday Cantor emphasized that this was one area where both political parties should work together to provide some certainty for children.
"The history of our country is one that has moved away from holding kids liable for the deeds, misdeeds, commitment of crimes by parents. These are, in many instances, kids without a country if we don't allow them to become full citizens of our country," Cantor told reporters Wednesday.
The House Judiciary Committee, which has passed several piecemeal immigration bills on party line votes, announced it would hold its first hearing on the topic of children next week.
House Democrats have criticized GOP leaders for not working across the aisle on immigration legislation.
"They're allowing once again, the tea party element in the Republican Party to drive the immigration debate," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-California, said Wednesday. Becerra and a group of lawmakers from both parties have been working on a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill, but the group has had trouble finalizing the proposal.
Pressed when the House would actually vote on immigration legislation, Boehner punted, saying "it's too early to predict what we will or won't do."