Immigration Reform: A Pathway to Citizenship for the GOP?

Needless to say, the shutdown/debt crisis didn't end well for Congressional Republicans. The basic take away is that the GOP backed down after a 16 day standoff over Obamacare with little or nothing to show for it, other than a very annoyed American public. A Washington Post/ABC poll released earlier this week found that an astounding 74 percent of the public disapprove of GOP's handling of the budget negotiations.

The question now is whether reasonable Republicans have learned that they can't let extremists run their strategy. The have a clear way out of this mess, and an historic opportunity to earn back the confidence of their supporters and the respect of the American people.

How? By working with House Democrats to pass a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, one which keeps the borders safe, prevents employers from gaming the system, provides a temporary worker program, and gives the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the shadows a reasonable path to earned citizenship.

Of course there are those who will say immigration reform is not possible now, especially given the nasty partisanship of the past couple of weeks. Why on earth would the House GOP work with President Obama and their counterparts in the House on immigration reform given the animosity and partisan bickering that plagues Washington?

The answer: because it's in their best interest.

Recent polls in key GOP held districts show that voters overwhelmingly support immigration reform with a path to citizenship. More ominously for the GOP, polling from NBC/Wall Street Journal, Washington Post/ABC News, and Public Policy Polling shows that the Republican party's image is badly in need of repair among the American people and especially among Latino voters. They could surprise everyone by doing something big and bold and turning immediately to broad immigration reform.

Just this morning, Mr. Obama reiterated what he has been saying all week -- even during the midst of the debt crisis -- that immigration reform is one of the three key issues upon which Republicans and Democrats can work together to strengthen the economy. The president stressed that an immigration overhaul will grow the economy by $1.4 trillion. It's something the majority of Americans agree about.

Immigration reform also happens to be the right thing to do. The American people want it and the American economy needs it.

And therein lies the opportunity. Just as the House GOP leadership handled the fiscal cliff crisis which loomed at the start of the year, and just as the House GOP leadership finally ended the debt crisis this week, House Republicans can fix America's broken immigration system if they are willing to work across the aisle.

This time they should take charge, boldly seize the initiative and push forward to pass a bipartisan immigration bill. And they have a framework from which to build. Earlier this year, as Mr. Obama pointed out this morning, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill, and did so on a bipartisan basis. The House leadership should work with willing Republicans and Democrats to build upon the legislation hammered out in the Senate, send it to the floor for a vote and, deliver it to the White House for the president's signature. And even if they can't bring themselves to do that, they can put together the pieces that ultimately can fix what's wrong with our immigration system. In this case, a "win" for Obama is also a "win" for Republicans.

That's why immigration reform is different than any other issue in Congress.

If they do this right not only will the House GOP have given the country a badly needed immigration overhaul -- but they will have taken a major stride toward rebuilding their brand and earning the confidence of the American people.