House Speaker John Boehner (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
(Brendan Smialowskia/AFP/Getty Images)

Since I reported this morning that House work on immigration reform is inching along with a long, steep road to climb, others have discovered that immigration reform is not “dead.” Well of course not. The leadership’s statement yesterday made clear that the House would work on its own bill, just not the Senate’s bill. The question is not whether immigration reform is “dead” but whether the House can pass something.

You have to listen carefully, sometimes, to hear the nuance in House Republicans’ proclamations. House leadership will say privately that a “path to citizenship” is off the table but they may get to a “path to legalization.” In part, that means rolling out immigration reform in steps. But the Senate bill does that since all the border security triggers are completed and 10 years pass before anyone is getting citizenship.

As one Senate adviser explained, under both current law and the Senate bill, nobody can just “get citizenship.” It’s something you have to apply for after you have a green card for at least three years. The only difference the Senate bill would make is that the new green card holders wouldn’t have to go home first before applying for citizenship.

The House may want to change or tighten those triggers or get a super-duper certification, but, ultimately, it will have to devote resources and employ methods akin to those used in the Senate bill to satisfy themselves that we have control over who enters and exits the country, although the House can add in some measures, perhaps something similar to the e-Verify proposal by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

At some point, House legislation would determine that we’ve fixed the illegal immigration inflow as much as humanely possible. But then what? Would the House provide for deportation of those who came here illegally? Of course not. Would the House want background checks, fines, English fluency, etc.? Yes — just like the Senate bill. So the question will come down to what sort of status these people can obtain. Permanent residency?

Presumably the point of all this would be to get the 11 million people out of the shadows. The House may decide to grant green cards. Well, in that case those people would become like other green card holders — eligible at some point to apply for citizenship. Or maybe they want to come up with a different type of green card (talk about confusion). Frankly, the last thing they want to do is leave the status of these people up in the air — an open invitation for Obama to handle their status by executive decree.

Frankly, as the House marches through the same issues and the same alternatives that the Senate considered, it is not impossible that a House bill will be different from but within shouting distance of the Senate bill. That is what immigration reformers hope. And that is why the anti-immigration (even anti-legal-immigration) crowd wants to do nothing; but that is not happening. The wheels are slowly turning. How smoothly the wheels turn and where they take the House remain to be seen.