The immigration debate threatens to tear the Republican Party apart–not because of disagreements over the principle of immigration reform, but because of disagreements over strategy and tactics that may become insurmountable. The party leadership, believing that immigration reform will appeal to Hispanic voters, is attempting to impose its will on rank-and-file conservatives who object to current legislative proposals.

The recently-passed Senate immigration bill includes provisions for border security as well as the legalization of illegal aliens. Conservatives believe, however, that legalization must be contingent on border security, since the Obama administration has a record of refusing to enforce laws it does not like. Neither the so-called “triggers” in the bill, nor the new spending on border security, provide adequate guarantees, conservatives say.

Republican leaders concede these arguments, but argue that failing to pass any legislation now will simply make the problem worse. Privately, some of the same Republican leaders argue for passing the legislation for purely political reasons, in order to stop the attrition of Hispanic voters. The party’s recent internal “autopsy” insists bluntly that Republicans “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” Period.

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