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Speaker John A. Boehner is optimistic the House will tackle immigration before lawmakers tackle the looming debt ceiling, and he endorsed relief for immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents.

With GOP leaders largely committed to addressing immigration in some fashion — mostly by bringing components of an overhaul to the floor piece by piece — the two lingering questions are when and whether Republicans would provide a pathway to citizenship.

While Boehner wasn’t explicit on either question Wednesday, he offered hints.

Asked whether an immigration overhaul would make it to the floor before lawmakers address the debt ceiling, which is set to expire at some point this fall, Boehner said, “We’ll see, but I would hope so.”

The Ohio Republican also left the possibility open for a pathway to citizenship for the young.

“People expect that there should be fairness for children who came to this country illegally but through no fault of their own,” Boehner said Wednesday when asked about the issue.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has been spearheading an effort to draft a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants, though GOP aides insist it will be different from the Dream Act.

In fact, “Dream” (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is a taboo word in the Republican Conference. Cantor’s bill, which will likely be called the KIDS Act, will also be an acronym, though the majority leader has yet to settle on what exactly it will stand for — as well as what it will contain.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week on granting citizenship to illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

On Wednesday, Boehner recommitted his conference to the piece-by-piece approach, saying Republicans would start with border security.

“Americans expect, as a nation of laws, that we’ll enforce those, starting at the border,” Boehner said. “I think it’s only fair.”

Boehner continued that Americans “expect” illegal immigrants to not get “special treatment.” What “special treatment” means remains to be seen.

Still, Boehner expressed a strong desire to take up immigration legislation.

“We need immigration reform,” he said. “It’s good for our country, and, frankly, it’s the right thing to do.”

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