That could happen. But Sanford’s comments suggest another possible endgame worth keeping an eye out for. It seems likely that Republicans may end up trying to define citizenship down. If flatly opposing citizenship — and killing the bill as a result — is seen as too politically risky, Republicans may coalesce around a path to citizenship for a few million people — significantly less than half of the 11 million current undocumented immigrants in this country.
In other words, Republicans may support a path to citizenship for many of the DREAMers and for family members of current permanent residents or citizens who cannot currently apply for citizenship — due to penalties — but would be allowed under the Republican version of reform to get on the path. Frank Sharry, the head of pro-immigration America’s Voice, estimates there may be roughly two million or perhaps more in both those categories combined.
The rest of the 11 million might get legal status — but not citizenship.
Republicans could end up calling this whole package a “path to citizenship” and daring Democrats to say No to it. After all, this would suddenly grant legal status and the right to work to 11 million people who currently have no status at all. The theory would be that this would be very hard, ultimately, for Dems to oppose.
It’s anyone’s guess, of course, whether a majority of House Republicans can even get to a place where they can support this version of a “path to citizenship.” But it’s not impossible, and indeed, Sanford’s comments above suggest that some Republicans do think citizenship will be a sticking point that will put them on the defensive in conference, which means they may stake out the lesser version as their very own “path to citizenship.”
All of which is to say that Dems need to be ready for a very tough fight in the next few months — one in which they will have to battle for every inch in the direction of a path to citizenship for the 11 million that they can get.