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Immigration Reform Is Having a Good Month

When Congress’s recess began, the conventional wisdom was that immigration reform was most likely doomed in the House, and that August, with its throngs of anti-”amnesty” protesters coming out to harass Republican representatives, would offer the final nail in the coffin. But now the month is closing with several positive signs that reform advocates have prevailed in volume over the summer break.

First, Molly Ball at The Atlantic dispatches any worries that Gadsden flag-toting immigration opponents are haranguing conservative members of Congress in droves. Quite the opposite,  she writes—immigration reformers are “winning August”:

Hundreds of immigrant advocates have appeared at rallies and town halls across the country. But the other side, the opponents, have been mostly absent. …

Anti-reform groups appear to be canceling events for lack of participation. The Tea Party Patriots once boasted of summer rallies in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Dallas; and South Carolina, but they've disappeared from the calendar on the group's website. Another anti-immigration-reform group, the Black American Leadership Alliance, had planned a nine-city "We Are America Tour," but had to drop half the stops. "Dear friends, it is with deep regret that I must inform you all that we had to drop several rallies," an organizer wrote on Facebook, in a post that has since been removed but was spotted and preserved by the pro-reform group America's Voice. "We were unable to get organizers for the following: Miami, FL., Chicago, IL., Roanoke, VA., and Wisconsin.”

This morning comes a New York Times story about the rare, coordinated push among Catholic umbrella organizations to send a pro-reform message to the nation’s Catholic congregants—who share a faith with 130 members of Congress and constitute a giant voting bloc in their own right:

It includes advertising and phone calls directed at 60 Catholic Republican lawmakers and “prayerful marches” in Congressional districts where the issue has become a divisive topic.

“We want to try to pull out all the stops,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said the immigration issue was at a now-or-never moment. “They have to hear the message that we want this done, and if you’re not successful during the summer, you’re not going to win by the end of the year.”

Of course, no one is mistaking these signs as an indication that the future of immigration reform consists of smooth sailing in the House. There, the majority is clearly set against any bill that is comprehensive or resembles the Senate’s. Just as before summer recess began, the best hope for immigration reform remains that Speaker John Boehner will be willing to break the Hastert rule and pass legislation with Democratic support—enough of it to send the whole question to conference committee. And with a potent cocktail of financial showdowns brewing—a potential government shutdown wrapped up with a fight to reverse sequester cuts—plus what Republicans see as their last, best chance to sink Obamacare looming, immigration won’t be at the fore of lawmakers’ minds for weeks after Congress resumes.

In that context, the best that a favorable August can do for immigration reform supporters is to maintain conditions that are as agreeable as possible for coaxing Republican representatives out of their retrenched opposition to reform. As Greg Sargent wrote last night,

The real story may be that House GOP leaders haven’t decided how to proceed. They are waiting to hear from members—some of whom are genuinely taking constituents’ temperature. …

If enough House Republicans privately don’t mind much if reform passes for the good of the party, as long as they don’t have to vote for it, Boehner can break the fictional Hastert Rule. … Only a year ago the position of the entire GOP was that any kind of provisional legalization constituted unacceptable “amnesty.” For some Republicans to be moving off that position is not nothing.

For a summer that saw thousands of immigration reformers rally around the offices of hapless conservatives, that may sound like an impossibly small victory. But come late 2013, or even 2014, it may be the memory of a fairly temperate summer that buoys reform to a full-floor House vote.

Molly Redden is a New Republic staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @mtredden.

This post initially misidentified Greg Sargent as Brad Plumer.