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Republicans should break ranks on immigration reform

Immigration reform passed the US Senate last summer and then died in the House, a casualty of Washington gridlock. Yet the exquisite irony is that comprehensive immigration reform is actually supported by a bipartisan majority in the US House — but the chamber’s GOP leadership so fears losing control that it has informally agreed to block any legislation from reaching the House floor unless a majority of Republicans supports it. Thus, in a body with 233 Republicans and 199 Democrats, debate is effectively contained within the GOP caucus, where conservatives and mainstream Republicans have been duking it out over immigration for years. But immigration reform is too important to be shunted aside without a fight. That is why the efforts of House Democratic leaders to force a vote, quixotic as they may appear, deserve support.

The immigration reform bill known as H.R. 15 is based on the version passed in the Senate, and outlines a sensible path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented US residents while also allocating funds to beef up border security.

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House Speaker John Boehner, who nominally supports immigration reform, nonetheless failed to get a majority of his fellow Republicans to agree to any particular plan. But in a rare show of procedural mettle, Democrats filed what is called a discharge petition Wednesday in an attempt to force a vote. But it needs a majority of the entire House behind it.

Thus, Democratic leaders must persuade all their own members plus 19 Republicans to sign the petition. There might be a flicker of new interest after the Congressional Budget Office released figures outlining the budgetary savings from passing H.R. 15: $200 billion in deficit reduction in the first 10 years, and $700 billion in the decade after. But it remains a tall order, because even Republican supporters of an immigration-reform compromise are reluctant to proceed without the majority of their own party. Still, there must be at least 19 Republicans who feel, in their hearts, that a fair and open vote on immigration reform is more important to the country than party loyalty.

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