Can anything get House Republicans to support citizenship?

As you know, John Boehner has ruled out letting the House vote on any immigration bill that doesn’t have the support of a majority of House Republicans. The latest is that Boehner has even clarified that this applies to anything that emerges from conference negotiations between the House and Senate. My bet is Boehner doesn’t really know right now what he’ll accept in the end, but let’s take his claim at face value for now.

Boehner continues to claim that the prospects for a majority of House Republicans supporting reform turn on whether the final bill’s border security provisions are strict enough. Many observers seem to be taking this claim at face value.

But is there any amount of toughening up of border security provisions that would be enough to get a majority of House Republicans to accept citizenship?

That isn’t a rhetorical question. The fate of reform could depend on it. Indeed, what continues to get lost here is that at bottom, opposition to citizenship, not unhappiness with the lack of border security in the emerging proposals, is the main threat to reform. As Ed Kilgore points out:

I continue to think the real and dangerous heart of the anti-reform effort has relatively little to do with economic or fiscal arguments, or culture, or even the “ethical” argument that civilization will crumble if we don’t strictly enforce immigration laws: it’s the claim that we’re all for comprehensive immigration reform, and the debate is just over how it is implemented.  That’s the message being offered by all the “border security first” proponents, who have no ill will towards undocumented workers but just want to make sure we aren’t creating an even bigger problem down the road.  It all sounds vaguely reasonable, until you realize the actual idea is to set down conditions that will make citizenship (or with some proposals, legalization itself) a distant and unobtainable goal.

Many observers think it’s unlikely that a majority of House Republicans can be induced to support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, no matter how tough  its border security provisions. What that means is that whatever the House passes — if it passes anything — is unlikely to have citizenship in it. Which in turn means we may head into conference with a Senate bill that includes citizenship, and a House bill that doesn’t. Democrats in conference won’t support anything that doesn’t include citizenship. The only thing that has any chance of emerging from conference is some kind of compromise that includes citizenship, plus still more concessions to border security — perhaps even something approximating the “hard triggers” Republicans continue to demand.

But even if that happens — even if conference produces such a bill — we’re back to the initial question: Can a majority of House Republicans support anything with a path to citizenship in it? Because if they don’t, whatever emerges from conference can’t pass. At that point, the only option left will be for Boehner to allow it to pass with mostly Dems. (Boehner would also have this option with the Senate bill if the House passes nothing.) Boehner says that won’t happen. I don’t believe that’s actually been decided, but he insists it is the case.

And so it would be great to see some more reporting on the core question of whether there is anything that can induce a majority of House Republicans to support citizenship. If not, all the protestations about border security are just misdirection and noise.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Jamelle Bouie | June 19, 2013