New GOP House Majority Bodes Well for Immigration Reform

Washington’s new parlor game involves trying to gauge the chances for comprehensive immigration reform with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives.

Conventional wisdom suggests the chances aren’t good, and there is no way that the new GOP majority in the House would even consider what the last Republican president, George W. Bush, proposed not long ago as a way of fixing our broken immigration system: a three-pronged approach that combines increased border and worksite enforcement, a guest worker program that brings in foreign laborers to do jobs Americans won’t do, and a pathway to legal status for the undocumented.

But I’m not so sure that’s right.

Neither is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who recently told a journalism conference in Phoenix that Republicans might just surprise the political experts and seize on immigration reform as one of those areas where they compromise with the White House. Unlike issues such as health care and taxes, where the partisan divide is much sharper, immigration is an issue where you can find Republican support for a comprehensive approach. Especially, the governor said, because Republicans can’t afford to continue to be known as “the party of no.”

Richardson also thinks the chances for reform might have improved with the election of four Hispanic Republicans to Congress. The assumption is that, while Hispanic GOP lawmakers might have been drawn to the Republican Party by its positions on lower taxes and smaller government, they were probably not lured there by the nativist rhetoric that many Republicans find as addictive as crack cocaine.

What Richardson says makes sense, and I’m not surprised. He has always had one of the clearer heads on the immigration issue. In fact, during the 2008 Democratic primary election, voters consistently told pollsters that he had the best grasp on immigration of any of the Democratic candidates.

Still, on the question of why immigration reform might not fare so poorly after all with Republicans running the House of Representatives, Richardson has just skimmed the surface.