Is “Path to Citizenship” Becoming a Novelty Idea?

U.S. Border Patrol agents patrol U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, in 2006.

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Benjy Sarlin finds a strong lede in today’s House conservative klatsch. When asked whether they agreed with Rand Paul on a “path to citizenship,” the half-dozen GOP members of the House, the people who can make or break a reform bill … did not say no.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), the leading tea party conservative working on a bipartisan immigration bill in the House, didn’t seem to ruffle any feathers when he said he supported a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens.

“We shouldn’t create a second class group that could never become citizens, but we should also not give them a special pathway that nobody can follow,” Labrador told the audience, adding that any bill also needed border enforcement triggers that would be met before reaching that point.

“I think many of us are willing to consider what Raul just descibed there,” Jordan, the former chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said.

Watching this unfold, I was surprised again by how Republicans chided the media for even asking.

“I don’t know that [Paul] said ‘a path to citizenship,’” said Labrador.

“He never mentioned the word citizenship,” said South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan. “We get a little frustrated as conservatives when our words are twisted to meet some goal of the liberal movement.”

Isn’t that a sidebar to the larger issue? There’s widespread disagreement over what can be done with illegal immigrants if a reform bill passes. Paul, in his speech, ruled out deportation. By extension, he didn’t really endorse the idea of a “touchback,” in which immigrants leave the country then return to “get in line.” Until the Senate “gang of eight” come out with a bill, we’re left reading the runes of “path to citizenship.” Give us a bill already!