The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Immigration reform just went from extremely unlikely to impossible

Anti-deportation protesters chant in front of the White House in Washington on Aug. 28. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The immigration reform issue continues to float on, largely untouched, with President Obama being the latest politician to pledge action only to fail to deliver.

And in fact, all of the recent controversy over the southern border and Obama's delayed executive action appear to have only made real reform less possible.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of Americans who say they strongly oppose a new path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (27 percent) now outnumbers the percentage who strongly support such a path (21 percent).

That's a reversal from the beginning of the current Congress (April 2013), when strong support was at 29 percent and strong opposition was at 21 percent.

And overall support for a path to citizenship (both "strongly favor" and "somewhat favor") has also dropped, from 64 percent last year to 53 percent today. So while poll after poll for years has shown strong support for a new path to citizenship, this one shows a pretty small 53-45 split.

In addition, Americans are becoming less and less critical of the GOP's border-security-first argument on immigration reform. In April, 59 percent of Americans said that emphasizing border security was a thinly veiled attempt to block comprehensive reform efforts, while 36 percent said it was a legitimate concern. That was a 23-point gap.

Today, the gap is just 12 points. A slight majority -- 52 percent -- says Republicans are just blocking reform, while 40 percent say they raise legitimate issues.

That doesn't mean that the American public is going to start celebrating the Republican Party's position on immigration reform (though comparatively, it's looking better). But it does mean they are more sympathetic. And if Republicans didn't really feel the need to act on comprehensive immigration reform for the past 20 months, these numbers suggest that they've got even less reason to do so now -- apart, of course, from worrying about losing another presidential election because of the Latino vote. (But we would submit that this hasn't proven a compelling reason to act so far and probably won't before the 2016 election.)

Immigration reform's progress has long been stunted by two things: 1) the lack of enthusiasm among its supporters, and 2) the fact that Republican incumbents fear being labeled "amnesty" supporters in their primaries.

And for reform advocates, these problems are only being exacerbated right now.

(h/t Carrie Dann)