Can the Republican Establishment Get the Base on Board with Immigration?

The tragedy at Newtown hasn't inspired Republicans to embrace gun control. And it's starting to look like the tragedy of Mitt Romney isn't enough to get the far right on board with immigration reform either.

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The AP reports on some additional details of the likely House proposal — and quotes at least one Democrat in support of the push.

"The good news is that the Democratic bottom line and the Republican bottom line have a lot of overlap," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., another member of the group, wrote in an opinion piece in the Orange County (Calif.) Register recently. "There is a lot of room between not preventing citizenship and not giving newly legalized immigrants a special path to citizenship. I think we will be able to find the sweet spot where neither side will be overjoyed, but each side will be satisfied."

Depends on who Gutierrez includes on each side.

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Earlier this week, we noted the long-standing split in the Republican party on immigration. Businesses generally want to maintain new immigrants as a source of inexpensive labor; the party base is generally antithetical to the idea of allowing more competition for employment. Both reported immigration deals include an expansion of a guest worker program which would increase the number of foreign workers allowed to work in the United States — an issue that exacerbates the rift and which is starting to surface.

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Twice in two days, Politico has reported on how the business community is reacting to the immigration proposals. On Wednesday, the site suggested that business was skeptical, citing construction in particular and "other industries" more vaguely. Today, it tightened that assessment. Construction is apparently opposed — in part because of labor union concerns over an undermining of employment standards — but the rest of the institutional right is on board.

High-profile conservative groups are taking on an unexpected cause: passing immigration reform. …

Conservatives say the strongest case in favor of immigration reform is an economic one, not values-based, arguing that an expanded pool of legal workers will boost the economy — the message that tests best in focus groups.

Tell that to the base. A poll released yesterday by Quinnipiac reinforced that Republicans are the most skeptical about immigration reform in general, with over a third indicating that those here without going through the formal immigration process should have to leave the country.

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Conservative media appears to be similarly skeptical about the proposals — focusing heavily on the increase in guest worker allowances. The National Review Online's John Fund suggested that such a program would repeat an historic mistake. "[D]espite a deal last Friday between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the issue of guest workers," he wrote, "the best guess is that any program will fall far short of removing the temptation for people to cross the border illegally."

Fund's argument was that the details were tricky. The Daily Caller's Neil Munro was a bit less reserved.

The inflow of workers is good for the Democratic Party’s political clout, because it increases unemployment, reduces wages and boosts dependence on government aid.

But it creates a problem for Republicans, partly because low unemployment and high wages encourage people to get married, have kids and vote GOP.

Regardless of your opinion of the political argument being made, it's a good encapsulation of the more extreme position taken by Republican opponents to reform: more workers from outside of the United States means fewer jobs for Americans.

Republicans hoping to pass legislation that can repair its battered relationship with the Latino community certainly recognize the strength of that argument. As recently as 1996, it was an explicit component of the party platform. What they need to hope, then, is that the conservative groups noted by Politico today — American for Tax Reform, the Hispanic Leadership Forum, the Chamber of Commerce — can make a stronger sales pitch to the base than can opponents in the conservative media. Not the safest bet in the world.