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August 21, 2013 2:56 PM Between Two Stools

By Ed Kilgore

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte of VA is getting a lot of attention for his delphic utterances about immigration reform during the current recess. Greg Sargent has an excellent analysis of the political problems with the position he seems to be trying to assume:

The political goals of Goodlatte’s “no special pathway” [to citizenship] position, which has also been echoed by GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, seem clear enough: To appear willing to do something about the 11 million undocumented immigrants in a way that might prove acceptable to the GOP base. In policy terms, the idea, which Goodlatte has floated before, is that the 11 million would get provisional legalization, contingent on border security, but could only apply for citizenship through already-available channel, such as marrying a U.S. citizen or getting employer sponsorship. This lets Republicans say they are generally open to citizenship for the 11 million at some point while simultaneously arguing they don’t support the right’s dreaded “amnesty,” i.e. rewarding lawbreakers with special treatment.
Politically, you can look at this in two ways. Either it’s a clever way for Republicans to get to comprehensive immigration reform while maintaining anti-amnesty cred with the base. Or it’s a way to look interested in solving the problem while adopting a half-measure solution that Dems will never accept, killing reform, in hopes of winning the blame game later.
Either way, the problem with this idea is that, in policy terms, it’s pretty much identical to supporting what many Republicans have already supported: legalization without a path to citizenship, or sub-citizenship status for millions. And this isn’t the first half-measure Republicans have floated: the Kids Act, which would give citizenship only to DREAMers, is also intended to make Republicans look compassionate and serious about solving immigration without grappling with the actual problem.

The trouble is, Greg notes, nobody much likes this tortured “compromise:”

[I]f the goal here is only to do solve the GOP’s political dilemma on immigration, that probably won’t work, either. Polls have shown that legalization-only has almost zero [support] among Latinos, who overwhelmingly favor citizenship. At the same time, only a tiny fraction of Republicans supports this option; it doesn’t win over diehard GOP reform opponents, either. This position falls between two stools, and pleases nobody.

To put it another way, the emotional heart of the “no amnesty” position on the Right involves legalization as much as citizenship, and extends to every category of the undocumented. Meanwhile, Latinos who have already been asked to swallow a long list of conditions and burdens and delays before getting onto the “path to citizenship” aren’t going to be fooled into thinking sub-citizenship—whether it’s a “guest worker” status or some sort of legal limbo—is an acceptable substitute.

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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