The papers are filled with hints that a bipartisan group of House members is putting together its own immigration reform plan, which is a big deal, since it means bipartisan groups are moving forward on reform in both chambers.
But there’s still one thing we don’t know about the talks in the House, which are shrouded in more secrecy than the Manhattan Project. Specifically: Does their emerging framework even include a path to citizenship, as the Senate framework does?
That’s the key thing to be looking for tomorrow, when the House Judiciary Committee holds its first full hearing on the issue, and it goes directly to the possibility that the House GOP could still kill immigration reform. Check out this quote about tomorrow’s hearing from House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte:
“I am confident that we will pass legislation dealing with immigration, but I don’t know the extent of what we can do yet, because the members need to be educated, the issues need to be discussed, and a lot of questions need to be answered about where on a spectrum between deportation and citizenship we can find common ground to bring people who are living in the shadows out of the shadows.”
This is less than confidence inspiring. Note that Goodlatte (who is not part of the bipartisan group working on this) doesn’t say whether he even expects citizenship to be part of the proposal; he suggests it will be somewhere on a spectrum between deportation and citizenship.
Hopefully, Goodlatte is wrong. Right now, in the Senate, Dems and Republicans agree that any final immigration compromise must have two components: More border security, and a path to citizenship. Even Marco Rubio agrees with the latter; the only debate is over the relationship between enforcement and a path to citizenship, not over whether both are in the final compromise. Without both of those, the prospects for immigration reform collapse. Dems won’t accept anything that lacks a clear path to citizenship with reasonable conditions.
And so one way House Republicans could deal any prospects for reform a serious blow is not to agree to a path to citizenship in the bipartisan House compromise being negotiated. Another way they could do this is to insist that the path to citizenship be contingent on the Southwestern border security commission (which is in the Senate proposal) signing off on border security. Dems are wary of any such demand, since it would give veto power over the proposal to the likes of Jan Brewer. And as they argue, the Obama administration has already deported a record number and has spent billions on new border enforcement. Dems are willing to agree to more enforcement, but nothing that is unreasonable or seems deliberately designed to defer the path to citizenship as long as possible.
The problem is that many individual House Republicans don’t have incentives to back immigration reform, even if opposing it is bad for the GOP overall. Well over half of House Republicans represent districts that are over 80 percent white, and over 200 of them represent districts that backed Mitt Romney (who staked out a hard right “self deportation” position). What’s more, the average GOP district is only 11.5 percent Hispanic; by contrast, the average Dem district is twice that.
To be sure, immigration reform could survive even if House Republicans don’t allow a path to citizenship to be included in the initial House compromise. If the Senate passes its compromise by wide bipartisan margins, the pressure on House Republicans to allow a vote on it will be extremely intense, and it could pass mostly with Dem support (which is how the fiscal cliff deal was resolved). But it would be far better if the emerging House compromise does contain a path to citizenship. If it doesn’t, it will be yet another sign of just how hostile House Republicans are to genuine immigration reform — and how hard it will be to achieve.