President Obama called again for immigration reform on Thursday. He'll probably do it next week too. And the week after that.
But until supportive Republicans come up with a plan for convincing their colleagues to advance some piece of legislation, immigration reform will not--cannot--advance beyond the rhetoric the president employed on Thursday.
There is certainly a path forward. It's narrow but navigable.
Ask Florida's Mario Diaz-Balart, one of the few House Republicans who desperately wants to legalize undocumented immigrants and create a new visa system that will allow future arrivals to come here legally.
He knows the sales pitch can't include the words "comprehensive" or "path to citizenship."
His strategy is to get half of the House Republicans--roughly 118 lawmakers--to tell House Speaker John Boehner they can live with some kind of adjustment of status (Note: not "legalization") for the unauthorized population.
Then, Diaz-Balart would see House leadership put a series of single-issue immigration bills on the floor--one on border security, one on agricultural workers, one on electronic verification, one on nonfarm guest workers, one on undocumented youth who were brought here as kids, and one on "a process where people can get right with the law." (Hint: That last one is legalization, but the words matter.)
"We're going to require floor time" for all those measures, Diaz-Balart said. "Time is our biggest hurdle."
It's entirely possible that not all of those bills would pass on the floor. (Certainly, lots of Republicans would chafe at anything that smacks of legalizing people who live here without papers.) But as long as a few of them pass, with Democrats' help, that's enough to get talks going with the Senate.
Boehner has already pledged to stay away from a conference committee with the Senate on a big bill, like the one the upper chamber passed in June that included a path to citizenship. But the speaker has left open the door to presenting the Senate with a package of smaller bills.
The people closest to the situation say House action on anything immigration-related is a path fraught with peril. But one thing is certain: It has nothing to do with what Obama says.
This article appears in the October 25, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.