How the GOP Can Roll Obama on Immigration

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Jan. 15 2013 2:23 PM

How the GOP Can Roll Obama on Immigration

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The Statue of Liberty

Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images.

Of the major policy issues under discussion in Washington, "immigration reform" stands out for having unusually undefined content. For the major immigration-advocacy groups, the goal is clear, a comprehensive bill that includes a path to citizenship for the overwhelming majority of unauthorized migrants already living in the United States. But many other aspects of immigration law are in the mix as part of a proposed deal, and it seems to me that there's a fair chance that a nimble Republican Party could essentially roll the Democratic coalition and pass an "immigration reform" bill that doesn't offer the path Latino advocacy groups are looking for.

Elise Foley has the key line from her briefing on the administration's thinking about immigration, namely that a piecemeal approach "could result in passage of the less politically complicated pieces, such as an enforcement mechanism and high-skilled worker visas, while leaving out more contentious items such as a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants."

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And indeed it could. But how can they stop it? The last House GOP effort to split the high-tech visas question from the path to citizenship question was an absurd partisan ploy. If Republicans want to get serious about it they should be able to make it work. The centerpiece would be something on increased immigration of skilled workers. That's something the tech industry wants very much, it's a great idea on the merits, and few influential people have any real beef with it. High tech visas will easily generate revenue to pay for some stepped-up enforcement. Then instead of adding on a poison pill so Democrats will block the bill, you need to add a sweetener. Not the broad path to citizenship, but something small like the DREAM Act. Now you've got a package that falls massively short of what Latino groups are looking for, but that I think Democrats will have a hard time actually blocking. After all, why would they block it? It packages three things—more skilled immigration, more enforcement, and help for DREAMers—they say they want. Blocking it because it doesn't also do the broad amnesty that liberals want and conservatives hate would require the kind of fanaticism that is the exact opposite of Obama's approach to politics.

But to do it, the GOP would need to show a little ideological flexibility. You have to throw a bone to the current undocumented population. DREAM would be my suggestion since it polls so well, but maybe you could come up with something else. But it would have to be something, and thus far the current crop of Republicans hasn't shown a ton of interest in being ideologically nimble.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.