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Immigration reform is on life support, but it isn’t dead yet

National Review’s Andrew Stiles has a pretty good report laying out why even some opponents of immigration reform fear that comprehensive reform isn’t dead yet, and could very well still happen.

Yes, the House “gang of seven” plan fell apart. Yes, Nancy Pelosi’s plan to introduce a version of the Senate bill in the House probably won’t get any significant House GOP support.

But proponents and opponents alike are now focused on the fact that GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte — a key player as chair of the Judiciary Committee — has now said he intends to move proposals forward this fall, while John Boehner has reportedly said the issue remains on the GOP agenda. Goodlatte has long said he could support legalization for the 11 million with no “special pathway to citizenship,” plus citizenship for the DREAMers. But can Dems and immigration reform advocates accept such an outcome?

There are scenarios under which they actually could. There is a roadmap which rarely gets discussed publicly, but it looks something like this:

1) House Republicans pass piecemeal border security measures, plus the Goodlatte “legalization” measure. The latter isn’t “amnesty” or a “special pathway,” so this could happen, with a lot of Dem votes. If not, Republicans might pass border security plus the “KIDS Act” that gives citizenship to the DREAMers. The point is to hope Republicans will pass one border security measure and one citizenship or legalization measure piecemeal — which could happen, even with the backing of a majority of House Republicans.

2) Some conservatives will call on the leadership to refuse to go to conference, and to challenge Dems to take the above or leave it. But Dems may respond by demanding negotiations — and threaten to tar Republicans with killing reform if they refuse. Remember, the Hispanic media is fully prepared to tar the GOP with all the blame for reform’s demise. So conference isn’t impossible.

3) Can Democrats and reformers accept the Goodlatte architecture, given that it doesn’t provide a special path to citizenship for the 11 million? Yes, there is one way this could happen. Dems could insist that if Republicans want to use the normal channels to citizenship — rather than the special pathway — that those channels must be unclogged. That means removing various barriers to green cards (which start the path to citizenship) for those who would be sponsored by employers or family members. Reformers believe you can get to citizenship for most of the 11 million this way.

Republicans get their “no special pathway to citizenship” talking point, and better yet, it will be true. Meanwhile, Democrats get an actual, if circuitous, pathway to citizenship for most, but not all, of the 11 million — and legalization for all of them. That isn’t everything Dems and reformers want, but it’s not too much less than what they want, and it’s a dramatic improvement over the status quo.

Of course, House Republican leaders would have to allow a vote on such an outcome, and a million things would have to fall into place to even get to that point. But here, advocates reason, the larger political context comes into play. Even leading Republicans are warning that the GOP is increasingly coming across as fundamentally incapable of governing. If Republicans get pasted politically in the coming government shutdown and debt limit fights, it’s not impossible they’ll be looking for some way to prove they can address the country’s problems. There aren’t too many remaining ways for Republicans to prove this in the near future, are there?