Shoehorning In Immigration Reform?
Unlike health care and climate change, there have always been a handful of Republicans willing to deal on immigration reform. One of them was George W. Bush, although his sympathies arguably lied with the corporations who wanted that steady stream of cheap labor to keep flowing. And much of the work has already been done to lay the groundwork for a deal. So while many are skeptical, I wouldn't be surprised to see an immigration bill come together late in the session this year. The President met with Congressional leaders on the issue this week, and delivered remarks expressing the difficulties but also the opportunities in immigration reform. It won't be long in the health care debate before we start hearing about giving "free health care to illegal immigrants." Same with education. The same with practically every issue on Congress' plate, meaning that striking a deal on immigration would short-circuit the hijacking of other debates by xenophobes.
I agree with Markos, this can get done this session. The Senate wants to do it, the President wants to do it, and Republicans are completely forked by their need to bolster their credibility among the fast-growing Hispanic voter population.
Among Republicans, that level of support is larger than the overall -- 89-11. It seems they realize that these undocumented immigrants aren't going anywhere, so they like the idea of giving them legal status as long as they're punished for breaking the law and required to make restitution. Seems fair enough.
Republicans, playing to that 11 percent, will fight reform. Not only do they have the Pat Buchanans in their camp suffering from unbridled bigotry, but they have to consider the political ramifications of legalizing 10-15 million undocumented immigrants on their electoral prospects. The GOP's rabid anti-Latino sentiment (now being seen in their handling of the Sotomayor nomination) has been noted by Latinos, and their support for the Republican Party is hemorrhaging as a result. Republicans, already at a deep electoral deficit, can ill afford to dig themselves an even deeper hole in states like Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada.
Yet they're stuck in a no-win situation. Oppose comprehensive immigration reform, and lose even more of the meager support they have left among Latinos. Support it, piss off their nativist base, watch Obama get all the credit, and add net millions of new Democratic voters to the rolls.
The GOP's saving grace would be getting a guest worker program to the legislation, allowing for several hundred thousand indentured servants to be imported into the country on an annual basis. That would still anger their nativist base, but it would greatly please their big-business patrons. Yet the guest worker program angers organized labor for obvious (and justified) reasons. When hearing talk of "unresolved issues", tops among them is this guest worker program. And the big question is whether Reid has the votes without the guest worker program, or whether passage would require that compromise.
That will be the giant bone of contention, but other than that, I don't see much of an argument. The nativist base doesn't have a filibuster-worthy minority in the Senate. The sloth of Congress and the other high-profile issues on the docket could slow this down, but it could just as easily come together very quickly and pass without much delay.