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June 27, 2013 9:43 AM Limits of Compromise on Immigration

By Ed Kilgore

As the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill slogs towards final passage in the Senate, most observers have been almost entirely focused on Republican sentiments on the legislation. Is the “road to citizenship” rocky enough? Are the border enforcement provisions vicious enough? Pro-reform pundits have cheered each time some cranky reactionary has allowed as how the legislation now has the right minimum element of sheer hatefulness. The peak, of course, has come with the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment, which aside from its conservative-bait evocation of the Iraq War (which many on the Right consider a great American victory), is being praised by proponents as creating totalitarian police state conditions on the border.

And now, assuming House Republicans continue to be unimpressed by the “toughening” of the Gang of Eight bill, we’ll probably hear more calls for compromise by reform advocates. But at some point the whole coalition supporting comprehensive immigration reform is going to begin to crumble, and as the New York Times’ Fernanda Santos reports, that point may have already arrived:

A push to assuage opposition to the bipartisan immigration bill before Congress by devoting more money and muscle to the task of securing the border with Mexico has yielded at least one unforeseen consequence: It weakened support for the bill among some pro-immigrant groups that had been its most reliable backers.
Advocates have staged protests in several cities this week denouncing a plan endorsed by the Senate to inject $40 billion in enforcement measures over the next decade, including 18,000 more Border Patrol agents and 700 more miles of the hulking steel fence that demarcates the countries.
Leaders of Presente.org, the nation’s largest online Latino advocacy organization, took the step of opposing the broader immigration bill altogether, saying in a statement they could not “in good conscience” stand by it if it is also “guaranteed to increase death and destruction through increased militarization of the border.”
Other advocates are considering the same path as they increasingly shift their criticism to the Democrats. In closed-door meetings, many have accused Democrats of giving up on a balanced compromise over immigration reform just to move the bill forward.

It’s possible, of course, that congressional Democrats, the White House, and business lobbyists could say “no mas” and present the Senate bill as already amended as representing a “final offer,” since in reality there’s no bill providing a “path to citizenship” that is going to win over a majority of House Republicans. If the projected end-game is a decision by House conservatives to let John Boehner keep his gavel even as he allows House Democrats with a smattering of Republicans pass something like the Senate bill, why should there be any further talk of compromise?

I think the question pretty much answers itself.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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