The single most important question about a possible immigration reform bill is whether or not Congressional Republicans are really prepared to defy their base for the political good of the party. The prospects of anything happening hinge entirely on this one question.
The American people want a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. According to a new Washington poll, 57 percent of Americans including 58 percent of independents support a pathway to citizenship. Elected Republicans also at least understand that if they block immigration reform they doom their chances of ever appealing to one of the largest and rapidly growing ethnic groups in America. It could trap them as a permanent minority party status.
The problem is the Republican base hasn’t accepted or refuses to accept this inevitablity. The same poll found 60 percent of Republicans oppose a pathway to citizenship and only 35 percent support it.
For any immigration reform package to get through Congress it is going to require several Republicans, whose only real election concern is a Republican primary; not to vote against the clear preference of their base.
At the moment it seems the long term political significance of this issue has convinced enough elected Republicans to break from the base. That could change if the base starts to gets nervous about setting a precedent. Even if immigration is not the most important issue for some conservatives, once a party gets away with defying their base for political expedience it becomes easier to do so again.
Immigration could be the first of many fights where the Republican party is forced to decide between sticking with their base or trying to prepare for future, which is going to politically significantly different thanks to the Millennial generation.