There is a lofty term in common use among conservatives who oppose the kind of reform that is making its way through the Senate. The phrase is “rule of law.” Translated into every day speech it means “playing by the rules,” a principle deeply embedded in our culture. You don’t jump the line. You don’t shortchange. And if you do, you shouldn’t expect to be rewarded for it. The reward, in the case of the comprehensive immigration bill, comes in the form of “a pathway to citizenship.”

Citizenship is the most precious gift that America can confer. For many people outside our borders, it is equivalent to winning a megabucks lottery. So why are members of the Senate so determined to grant it to people who did not play by the rules?

Democrats want to reward a constituency that has proved itself both loyal and influential. Republicans see it as a form of damage control, hoping to ingratiate themselves with Hispanic voters whom they have systematically alienated. Each party sees a political dividend in creating millions of new voters who could be registered upon receiving citizenship.

But conservatives might have a good point. Why confer an unmerited reward of citizenship on those who entered the country illegally?