Reports from both houses of Congress have raised hopes that a deal is taking shape to overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system. Even more heartening is a blunt new report from the Republican National Committee, warning that if the GOP does not shift its stance to embrace comprehensive immigration reform — which includes eventual citizenship for those currently undocumented — “our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”
The congressional deal-making and the warning from GOP leaders are signs of the momentum that has built behind immigration since the drubbing Republicans suffered from Latino voters in November. Still, it would be a mistake to confuse momentum for inevitability, especially on such a volatile issue.
The emerging compromise among immigration negotiators in the Senate — a bipartisan group known as the Gang of Eight — would subject undocumented immigrants to a 10-year waiting period for a green card, followed by a three-year wait to be eligible for citizenship. That timetable is only marginally different from a White House proposal.
In the House, some prominent Republicans including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Va., have tried to coax the party’s rank-and-file away from its absolutist opposition to citizenship — or, as the GOP dead-enders prefer to call it, amnesty.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has been meeting with increasing frequency since the election, trying quietly to hammer out principles they can agree upon.
But so many House Republicans have been so entrenched on the issue for so long that the idea of supporting any form of earned citizenship — even one that requires paying a fine and back taxes and going to the back of the line for years — would require crossing an ideological Rubicon.
Take the example of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a conservative Republican who represents a swath of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In hearings in the House last month, Mr. Goodlatte suggested that he’d prefer a middle ground between what he called the “extremes” of mass deportation and amnesty.