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Editorial: Back to Immigration; Another Issue Divides the GOP

Lobbyists are expected to descend on Capitol Hill this week to push for a bipartisan agreement in the House on immigration reform. Although it may not seem so, this is unusual in two respects. The first is that the partisans in question are all Republicans; the second is that the coalition of lobbyists includes about 600 leading conservatives in business, agriculture and evangelical religion.

The Senate has already passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill and the lobbying effort will be focused on getting the House to debate and pass some version of four separate bills that have been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. If that were to happen, House and Senate negotiators would try to produce a compromise version.

According to The New York Times, the lobbying effort will concentrate on about 80 Republican representatives from about 40 states who are thought to be subject to persuasion. Another 30 GOP lawmakers are considered almost certain not to back any immigration bill.

With Democrats insisting that any bill must address the status of the estimated 11 million immigrants who are living in the country illegally, Republicans are sharply divided between those who concur that some path to citizenship must be established and others who are adamant that they will never support such legislation.

The subtext is that members of the Tea Party faction are under no circumstances going to support any element of President Obama’s agenda. In this, Republican divisions over immigration mirror the schism in the party revealed by the government shutdown debacle earlier this month, when many of the party’s traditional supporters in the business community drew the line at dragging the nation to the brink of debt default over the Tea Party’s quixotic effort to defund Obamacare.

If anything, an intra-party brawl over immigration has greater potential for self-inflicted wounds than the government shutdown. As the lobbying effort indicates, many business leaders are solidly behind reform, as are some big money donors who are threatening to withhold future financial support for Republican lawmakers who obstruct progress. Justin Sayfie, a Florida lawyer who helped raise money for Mitt Romney last year, told the Times: “I respect people’s views and concerns about the fact that we have a situation in the United States where we have millions of undocumented immigrants. But we have what we have. This is October 2013. And the country will be better off if we fix it.”

And so will the Republican Party, which can hardly afford to further alienate Hispanic voters, whom they need to attract if they hope to recapture the White House any time soon. But it has become increasingly obvious that the Tea Party exists at least as much as a rebuke to traditional Republican thinking as it does to liberalism. Crackpot ideology trumps both the good of the country and the best interests of the party. Rather than deal with the underlying reality of immigration policy, those lawmakers prefer the comforting abstraction of adhering to a principle without a purpose. Thus are they willing to sacrifice the nation’s economic interests and consign millions of people permanently to the shadows of society. That’s why we’re rooting for the right Republicans to prevail in this fight.