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Republicans Asked for an Immigration Debate. Now They're Running From It.

John Moore/Getty Images

My vote for Most Important Article of Thursday goes to Greg Sargent for this piece, in which he identifies the fairly devastating upshot of the GOP's stated position on immigration reform.

It's hard to disentangle what's genuine about the party's position from what's actually just an outgrowth of the GOP's clumsy effort to blame Barack Obama for its own inaction. But the gist of Sargent's piece is that in the course of attacking the president for seeking to curtail immigration enforcement, Republicans have subtly copped to the belief that Obama isn't doing enough to chase illegal immigrants with deep roots in the U.S. out of the country (as opposed to those who essentially get caught crossing the border).

It's worth remembering why members of Congress are expending so much energy on immigration to begin with. The immigration debate didn't start with Democrats trolling Republicans into being insensitive to immigrants. The point of all this was that Republicans wanted to do something proactive to rehabilitate their political standing with the very community that includes the people they're now pressuring Obama to deport. Immigrants who are likely to have U.S. citizens in their families. Immigrants whose votes Republicans would compete for in the distant future after they've completed a long path to citizenship.

That's part of the reason they've adopted this ham-fisted talking point about how they can't pass immigration reform because of Obama. If the issue's going to die, then conservative indifference or xenophobia can't be the culprit. They don't want the immigration debate that they asked for to end up exacerbating their existing political problems in these communities.

On this score, Speaker John Boehner did his party no favors by essentially admitting that his own GOP conference, and not Obama, is the key impediment to action.

But they can't escape it either way. Boehner's comments notwithstanding, the Republicans who want an immigration reform bill to pass must still be armed with an excuse for why it isn't happening. That excuse is that Obama can't be entrusted to enforce the law. But the most compelling evidence that he won't enforce the law is the fact that he's made life a bit less risky for the most deeply embedded and assimilated immigrants in the country. And that leaves even pro-reform Republicans in the awkward position of arguing that the people whom they claim to want to naturalize should probably be deported first anyhow.