There is an old saying in poker and it applies to immigration reform as well: you can't beat something with nothing.
One way or another, win or lose on the votes on immigration legislation in the next Congress to be chosen this November, immigration will be part of the country's 2014-2016 pre-presidential and presidential campaign. And Republicans would be wise to prepare for that fact.
During that period, those on the side of real immigration reform will, as always, have an uphill battle. They will be in a fight against the money and political clout of the large entrenched interests that dominated the closed-door discussions that took place before the 2013 Senate bill was passed. They will be in a fight with the Democratic Party, which is united in its support of the massive Senate bill and already beginning to demagogue and pander on the issue.
They will also be in a fight with some of their own party allies.
Taken together, these are formidable opponents and they have dominated the narrative that underlies this debate so far. The key point of leverage of supporters of real immigration reform, then, is not their numbers, but the power of their perspective. In the immigration battles that will unfold next year, the real reform movement will not only have to continue to stand its ground, but to use that battle to further educate the public about the viable options before it.
That last phrase is worth considering a moment.
"The viable options before it" reflects the fact that when that when you get beyond the true, but hackneyed and misleading phase, "the system is broken", what you actually propose to do about reforming our immigration system makes a difference.
For years, the most prevalent narrative about immigration reform has consisted in equal parts of the assertion that "the system is broken" leavened with the advice to bring the illegal migration population "out of the shadows" by granting them amnesty and then a "pathway to citizenship". This narrative is not so much a "truth" as it is a point of view that presents itself as accepted wisdom.
However, there are other ways to view the issue of what is really broken and what to do about it.
Advocates and pundits endlessly repeat the meme that the system is "broken". However, they never identify the core element of any immigration policy, enforcement, that underlies whatever policies a country devises. If a government does not enforce the laws that its citizens and leaders agreed to have, its immigration policies are an illusion and a cruel hoax — on the public and on legal immigrants themselves.
One of the core problems of our "broken" system is that changes in immigration enforcement undertaken by the Obama administration have narrowed enforcement and broadened administrative amnesties to the point that it no longer operates as either a deterrent or a consequence for the majority of illegal migrants.
This is not a position that is supported by vast majorities of the American public and were the House to pass legislation that addressed this issue as a cornerstone of the other reforms, they would run little risk of alienating most voters.
But, you say, the House can't pass enforcement-only measures! And you are right.