We've seen several interesting developments on the immigration-reform front in Washington this week.
First, there's the GOP's election post-mortem that included the notion that Republicans needed to rethink their approach to immigration politics if they hope to win more of the Latino vote in the future. (There's been considerable hemming and hawing since the report's release as to what that rethinking actually means—and whether the GOP platform calls for self-deportation.)
Then, yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul, the new great GOP hope for the future, delivered a speech embracing, sorta, immigration reform that allows undocumented people now in the country to remain here—although he has rejected the idea that this is a "path to citizenship":
Paul delivered a speech on immigration Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in which he pledged to support reform, but did not mention citizenship. His staff pushed back afterwards against an Associated Press report that characterized his plan as a “path to citizenship,” but after hearing the objections the news agency stood by its original characterization.
They were right to do so. The plan Paul laid out in his afternoon call sounded identical in principle to plans put forward by a group of bipartisan senators and by the White House, both of which contain a so-called “path to citizenship” that would allow illegal immigrants here today to obtain green cards (after meeting certain conditions) and eventually naturalize. And it was easily more progressive than the proposal outlined by Jeb Bush in his recent book, which would have specifically barred illegal immigrants from becoming citizens.
“As long as those here want to work, I’d get them work visas, and as long as they want to apply you get in the normal line for citizenship that’s already available, so it’s not a new pathway, it’s an existing pathway,” he said. “And then we need to figure out if the existing pathway isn’t working, how do we fix the existing pathway?”
Today, a group of conservative House Republicans said they were on board with a reform plan that did not attempt to deport everyone who has entered the country without documentation or overstayed their visas, according to Talking Points Memo:
On Wednesday, a panel of House conservatives hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation offered nothing but praise for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) speech on immigration in which the tea party favorite backed the same broad planks of comprehensive immigration reform favored by the Senate’s bipartisan working group and by the White House.
“I thought he did a very, very good job in talking about and embracing some ideals of dealing with illegal immigration and embracing some of the reform measures my friends are putting together,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said. Duncan has an A+ career rating from anti-immigration group Numbers USA and once compared illegal immigrants to “vagrants” and “animals.”
Paul was only the latest in a parade of conservative Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who have talked up reform in recent weeks. And if the reaction in the room on Wednesday is any indication, their message is taking hold.
“We’re not going to round up millions and millions of people, kids and grandmas and grandpas and send them to wherever,” Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) said, adding there were both “conservative arguments” and “emotional arguments” that should compel the House to address immigration.
In addition to Duncan and Radel, the group included Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Dave Schweikert (R-AZ), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Steve Scalise (R-LA), and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC).
After several members also expressed their support for some version of reform, they were asked as a group whether any one of them disagreed with Paul’s call to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. The group looked to each other then shook their heads. Not one raised an objection.
Jonathan Chait, at New York magazine, observes that the GOP's 2016 presidential contenders are all on board with comprehensive reform, although that could change:
Almost certainly there will be some kind of conservative revolt. Stirring of it could be heard at CPAC, where figures like Jim DeMint, Donald Trump, and Ann Coulter issued fiery denunciations. What’s interesting is that, as of now, anti-reform conservatives have no standard bearer. All of the major 2016 figures — Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker — support comprehensive reform. Somebody will surely emerge to represent the conservative base in an open field, but so far the political marketplace has not supplied a candidate to fill that anticipated demand.
Instead, the field looks a lot like a kind of cartel. All of the major candidates support reform, so none of them can undercut each other by appealing to anti-reform sentiment. Whichever candidate eventually emerges to speak for the anti-reform base — and one will; the lure of a mass followership and free time on Fox News is too great to pass up — will probably be a Herman Cain—esque huckster running a protest race rather than a serious candidacy.
And that potential dynamic, in turn, will shape the prospects for the passage of a bill. The key factor in passing a law is for leading Republicans in Congress, especially Rubio, to stay solid in their support. They’ll continue to support a bill as long as they feel secure that fellow Republicans won’t attack them as an Obama-loving sellout willing to let hordes on Mexicans pour forth over the border. If figures like Rubio look around and see other Republicans edging for the exits, they’ll in turn beat a retreat.