Plenty of signs suggest immigration reform will move front and center in the next few weeks.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), as The Hill reported, is sounding a positive note, saying he would supporting legalizing the 11 million or so illegal immigrants but not carving a special pathway to citizenship. He joins a number of conservative Republicans including Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in suggesting that formula. (The devil is in the details: Does this mean they could eventually get citizenship?)
This still will be too generous to satisfy immigration opponents, for whom the goalposts constantly change. If earned citizenship was equated in 2013 with “amnesty,” the same will be true in 2014 of “no special pathway.” At bottom, there are some on the right who want no impediment to deporting 11 million people. Suggesting that this will never happen and that they therefore are eroding the “rule of law” they claim to support doesn’t seem to register.
The next critical step may come at the House GOP confab next week. Leadership can take the pulse of the conference and then see if there is a real chance for progress.
Another indication of potential success is the staff brought on to try to bridge the gaps between Democrats and the Republicans who are at least open to the possibility of comprehensive reform. The speaker’s decision to hire Rebecca Tallent, a veteran of immigration reform battles, suggests his public comments are more than window dressing. If he really wants to find a bill that can pass, Tallent is the person to craft it.
Politico today also suggests that states are creating impetus for federal immigration reform. (“The National Conference of State Legislatures report, released Tuesday, documents a 64 percent increase in state-level immigration legislation; in all, 2013 saw a total of 437 laws and resolutions passed on immigration, compared to 267 in 2012.”) I wouldn’t overestimate the importance of these efforts, but it does give some Republicans cover to say federal action is needed for purposes of uniformity.
But perhaps the biggest breakthrough is the grudging realization that aside from DREAMers, all that is possible at this point is legalization (removing the fear of deportation). Democrats will grumble. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will race to the media to make sure they carry the spin that this spells the end of real immigration reform. But in the end there could be a half-a loaf deal that, for example, does something on boarder security, makes citizenship available for DREAMers, makes legalization attainable for millions more and looks at the need for loosening the strings on high-skill immigrants who are needed and provide a shot in the arm to the economy.
It isn’t perfect. It may falter in an election year. Nevertheless, a House-passed immigration bill that addresses a range of issues will help shift the perception of the GOP, give Obama something positive in his second year and maybe even rescue a Democratic senator or two. As with the recently passed budget, sometimes simply getting a deal that everyone can live with is a reason for celebration.