The only problem is that non-citizenship legalization is a disaster. Do you worry that immigration reform might create a new magnet for illegal immigration? Well, legalization creates almost as big a magnet as citizenship. (‘Look at the people that went up north a decade ago. They got to stay! They’re legal! Their kids are American citizens.’) Do you worry about the effects of expanded and uncontrolled low-skilled immigration on the wages of Americans who do similar basic, unskilled work? An increased supply of unskilled legal workers will drive down wages at the bottom as effectively as unskilled citizen workers. And if the legalization precedes enforcement, the enforcement designed to prevent further waves of unskilled immigrants is likely to never happen.
For Republicans, the non-citizenship path pushed by Labrador and others is arguably the worst of both worlds. They not only lose the immigration fight–alienating both their conservative base and the white non-college voters who abandoned them in the 2012 election. They also give Democrats an opportunity to bash them relentlessly for making millions of Latinos into formal second-class residents. (As Mark Krikorian notes, Dem activists already have a name for it–Juan Cuervo.) They’d immediately forfeit the big prize they were supposed to win by caving on immigration–the Latino vote. In effect, the GOP would be buying itself a decade of ethnic skirmishes–during which they’d be branded as racists, while the mostly Democratic Latino vote would be pumped up–and which they would ultimately lose. Eventually, it’s likely that all the undocumented immigrants denied an explicit “path to citizenship” in this year’s legislation would be granted it anyway.