‘Special pathway’ to compromise?

01/16/2014 6:23 PM

01/16/2014 6:24 PM

House Republicans are reportedly set to roll out “principles” governing the sort of immigration reform they would be willing to accept.

Most reports suggest they might include some form of legalization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants here — but not citizenship, of course, because that’s “amnesty.”

So it’s worth clarifying that there is a compromise route to immigration reform that many Democrats and advocates might accept. The question is whether Republicans can get to that middle ground.

National Journal reported Wednesday: “According to House leadership and immigration-policy aides, the principles will be broad, nebulous even, and heavily focused on Republicans’ favorite immigration issue — border security. It will not include any concrete proposal, they said. Indeed, the wording is likely to be intentionally squishy, giving lawmakers lots of room to maneuver.

“But no matter what happens, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will come out a winner just for the effort. If it flops over hardliners’ objections to anything that approaches amnesty for illegal immigrants, Boehner and Republican campaign leaders looking for cash can still tell the business community they tried. What’s more, it could lay the groundwork for a Republican overture to Hispanic voters.”

The question at the center of this debate: Is the GOP intent to merely pass something and tell Democrats, “Take it or leave it,” just to show that Republicans are not hopelessly in the grip of their nativist base?

Or do Republicans believe their political problem with Latinos is pressing enough that they need to participate in something approaching comprehensive reform, which would require crafting a proposal that can win enough Democratic votes to pass the House?

The unstated route to success all turns on the term conservatives hate: special pathway to citizenship.

There is a way Republicans could embrace legalization that Democrats could ultimately accept — though few will say so out loud. Democrats could insist that if Republicans don’t want a special pathway to citizenship for the 11 million, then the normal channels to citizenship for everyone must be unclogged.

That means removing various existing barriers to green cards (which start the path to citizenship) for those who would be sponsored by employers or family members.

A report published Tuesday by the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy found that such methods could result in citizenship for as many as 6.5 million people. That gets within striking distance of comprehensive reform, and Democrats and advocates might accept it.

A good way to call Republicans’ bluff — if they do introduce “principles” that include legalization — is to ask whether they’re also willing to reform the system in ways that make the path to citizenship easier for everyone.

In this scenario, Republicans get their talking point — “no special pathway” — but it would also go some way toward solving the problem.

That’s the step no one knows whether Republicans are willing to take.

Greg Sargent writes an opinion blog for The Washington Post. greg.sargent@washpost.com

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