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Immigration Reform is Doomed. At Least For Now.

Frederic Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The New Republic's Alec MacGillis offers up various reasons why immigration reform has a better chance of passing in the next year than conventional wisdom currently holds. I appreciate his optimism, but immigration is doomed—at least until after the midterm elections.

Alec is probably right that a few things have improved the prospects for a bill. House Speaker John Boehner, who clearly wants one, is in a stronger position with his caucus than he was even several months ago. Immigration reform has several rich backers. President Obama is desperate for a bill. And Congress, after the shutdown debacle, may feel the need to make it appear as if something, anything can come out of Washington. Unfortunately, all of these things pale in comparison to the larger question of whether the bill is in the interest of House Republicans, and the party more generally. Here is Alec's take:

It’s in the Republicans’ interest. Why would the cautious, conflict-averse Boehner want to put himself through the hassle, even if he does have a path forward? Because, of course, he and so many other leaders of his party and the conservative movement—Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist—grasp that the party cannot continue be seen as obstructing immigration reform by the country’s growing legions of Hispanic and Asian-American voters. Yes, many of the same leaders were warning the hard-liners in the House and Senate off of the defund-Obamacare government-shutdown path to no avail, but those warnings were highly ambivalent, a matter of tactical disagreement after years in which the leaders had been banging the same anti-Obamacare drum. Whereas in this case the leaders are truly in favor of immigration reform, even if just for reasons of self-preservation.

This may be true, but it suggests—in the best case scenario—that Congress passes a bill after the midterms, rather than before them. Pretend you are a House Republican, and thus in almost all cases are from a very conservative district. What is your incentive to pass an immigration bill before November 2014? Not only would it make you vulnerable to a primary challenge, but it isn't even obvious that it would strengthen your position in the general election, especially considering the way House districts are drawn, and that non-presidential election years tend to have older and whiter electorates.

Alec is right that eventually Republicans need to stop bleeding minority votes. But that is part of a long, long, long-term project. Politics is a zero-sum game, and if Obama signs an immigration bill, the Democrats are going to get most of the credit. Ideally, then, Republicans could win the 2016 election without supporting immigration reform and have a Republican president sign the bill. (They blew their chance in 2007.) But it may be hard to win the next election without doing so. Still, even in 2016, with a bigger electorate, it still isn't necessarily in the interests of Republican congressmen to support a bill.

Immigration reform is going to be, at best, a tough sell in 2015. Before the next congressional election, it's a nearly impossible dream.