On immigration reform, the GOP must steer clear of legalization without citizenship

The Obama administration’s cavalier use of executive authority gives many on the right good reason to fear that any promises of enforcement will be broken faster than the president’s guarantee that if you like your health plan you can keep it. Further, the Obamacare rollout has been one example of bureaucratic incompetence after another; what are the odds that new immigration-enforcement rules, which will probably fall far below Obamacare on the president’s list of priorities, will be smoothly applied?

In addition to demoralizing many in the base, legalization without citizenship would probably open Republicans up to further attacks from the left. The same activists, lobbyists, and opportunists who denounce any effort at immigration enforcement as “xenophobic” would, the day after any legalization was signed, turn around and attack Republicans as the party of the anti-immigrant Know Nothings for their opposition to granting citizenship, too. Legalization without citizenship would give Democrats a wonderfully polarizing issue for 2014 and 2016. As Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice and a tireless advocate for “comprehensive immigration reform,” said recently, “reform without citizenship . . . would create a permanent underclass that harkens back to the darkest times in American history.” (Sharry also pledged over the summer to “kick” the posteriors of Republicans if they dared to stop the president’s immigration agenda.) Moreover, while anything can happen in Washington, it is highly likely that legalization without citizenship would eventually lead to citizenship, and most political observers know it. Legalization without citizenship would thus be another set-piece of Beltway Kabuki.