Immigration Reform Rises From The Dead?

Legalization vs. citizenship is shaping up to be the central point of contention:

The debate over immigration illustrates how truly difficult it often is to strike a big deal in politics, especially in divided government. Winning enough support to get a bill passed on a hot button issue lies in finding not just a gray area but the best possible gray area. If the middle ground includes things that are too hard for both sides of the debate to swallow, there will be nobody left in the middle to support it.

The most contentious part of the immigration debate is the question of whether most undocumented immigrants should be allowed a special path to citizenship. The House GOP plan says no. The plan that passed the Senate says yes. The initial plan being forwarded by House Republican leadership endorses legal status but not a path to citizenship — except for those who were brought into the country illegally as children.

Right now, that appears a middle ground worthy of at least a closer look, in the eyes of many major players invested in the issue.

Sargent points out that talk of even limited legal status counts as progress for the GOP:

It’s dispiriting that Republicans have ruled out a path to citizenship. But it’s important to understand how much of a shift these principles nonetheless represent.

Less than two years ago, the de facto party-wide position — echoed by the 2012 GOP presidential nominee — was self deportation, i.e., doing everything possible to get them the hell out of here. Now the party’s operating principle is that they should all stay, provided certain conditions are met — a real change from pandering to GOP base nativists to stiff-arming them in a big way. As the New York Times puts it today: “From absolute denial to the brink of grudging acceptance is a big step away from neo-nativism.”

Ramesh prefer a more gradual approach to reform:

A better idea would have four parts: We’d increase enforcement of immigration laws at the border and in the workplace. We’d put people who were brought here illegally while they were minors but have otherwise obeyed the law on a path to full citizenship. We’d signal that amnesty for other illegal immigrants might be possible in the future once we’re sure that enforcement is working. And we’d reform our legal immigration policies to let in more high-wage workers.

That compromise still wouldn’t win over anyone who opposes amnesty in principle. But it would be fair to the children of illegal immigrants, and it would be good for assimilation. It would also accord with what the public seems to want as measured by polls.

Any sort of legalization elicits a “no way, José” from NRO:

For some reason, House Republicans have fastened on eventual citizenship as the key issue. It isn’t. What will matter most to the illegal population is getting legalized. The experience of the 1986 amnesty was that most formerly illegal immigrants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to become citizens. And it is the legalization itself that will act as a magnet to new illegal immigrants. They will take notice that we eventually welcome anyone who manages to come here to live and work in defiance of our laws.

Kilgore suspects that any Republican-led immigration reform will be designed to fail:

In all the analysis of the GOP’s immigration stance, it’s pretty much been taken for granted that the “self-deportation” stance of Mitt Romney—perhaps his most popular policy stance for movement conservatives, and an important key to his nomination—has to be discarded. But all this insistence on ruling out any “special path” to citizenship, however limited and remote, and on “hard triggers” for legalization that are designed to be unreachable, thinly disguises a fundamental unwillingness to accept the presence of unauthorized immigrants and the hope they will all find life here miserable enough to eventually go home. Illegal border crossings have already slackened significantly. The number of deportations remain very high. So all the talk of “enforcement first” increasingly sounds like an excuse for avoiding or at least delaying legalization in any form.

A bill that grants legal status without citizenship would not be popular on the left, but Yglesias imagines that Obama would gladly go along with it:

I think it would be genuinely a bit nutty for the president to refuse to sign a bill along these lines were it to pass congress. Immigrants and their families want a path to citizenship, and Democrats want new citizens who can vote for them, but legal status alone would be a boon to both unauthorized migrants and the national economy. If the bill were on Obama’s desk, I just don’t see how he could avoid signing it. That said, we’ve time and again seen the political problems with pre-emptive compromise in this administration. The absolute best way to destroy conservative support for a legal status measure would be for the White House to embrace it.