What happened to immigration reform?

It is an emotionally wrenching juncture for a movement that, until recently, was riding high. “The reason there’s such a sadness is that we got very close,” said Joshua Culling, a conservative policy strategist who worked on immigration for Americans for Tax Reform. “The momentum for the better part of a year was on our side.”

Conservative commentators like Sean Hannity backed comprehensive reform; the Republican National Committee came out in favor; the Senate Gang of Eight successfully completed its work. The reform coalition, comprising tech executives and evangelical pastors, unions and human-rights groups, agriculture and law enforcement, libertarians and bleeding-heart liberals, kept Democrats largely united while winning over large swaths of the conservative movement. They kept up a blitz of grassroots pressure while their opposition was barely seen.

And yet their incremental successes have failed, so far, to add up to the big goal: getting a law passed. The events of recent weeks have convinced Culling, formerly an optimist, that immigration reform is not likely to get done. Syria and the government shutdown preoccupied the Hill when lawmakers returned from their summer vacation; now, Republicans are loath to change the subject from their winning crusade against the many-splendored disaster that is the health-care law’s implementation. Even before Boehner’s comments seemed to shut the door on the only feasible legislative avenue for reform, another GOP leader, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, told advocates there wouldn’t be votes on the issue this year, while Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart warned that by 2014 it will be too late to pass anything.