The Dirty Word in Immigration Reform

One word, or even a euphemism for it, could doom immigration reform.

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Protesters walk along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during an immigration rally, one of dozens of rallies held nationwide, April 10, 2006. Protestors called for comprehensive immigration reform that does not criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Amnesty is still the dirty word in the debate over immigration, as it has been for many years, and it could torpedo comprehensive immigration legislation in Congress.

Despite initial happy talk, differences are appearing between President Obama and a key bipartisan group of senators over what should be done about illegal immigration. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, says Obama is not placing sufficient emphasis on strengthening border security before creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. Rubio says Obama is leaving "the impression that he believes reforming immigration quickly is more important than reforming immigration right."

Other conservatives are ratcheting up their criticism of both Obama and the Senate proposal. This rift is especially pivotal in the House, where the GOP holds a majority.

[ENJOY: Political Cartoons on Illegal Immigration]

Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith calls the new Senate proposal "amnesty" and predicts it will fail in Congress. "We shouldn't be surprised that the senators who were for amnesty years ago are still for amnesty today," Smith says. He adds that the Senate plan would "cost taxpayers millions of dollars, [cost] American workers thousands of jobs, and it's going to do nothing but encourage more illegal immigration."

FE_PR_070405essay_immigration.JPG
Protesters walk along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during an immigration rally, one of dozens of rallies held nationwide, April 10, 2006. Protestors called for comprehensive immigration reform that does not criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Commentator Rush Limbaugh says it is "up to me and Fox News," the conservative-leaning TV network, to stop a deal that would create a path to legal residency or citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants unless they were disqualified by being convicted of a felony. He also considers such a provision a form of amnesty.

[NEWMAN: Immigration Is Good for Business]

Those who favor the emerging Senate plan say it doesn't amount to amnesty because it would impose penalties or special requirements on illegal immigrants in order for them to qualify for legal residency. Obama's plan also calls for a path to citizenship but critics say it is too lenient.

The November election gave a big impetus to immigration legislation among some Republicans because Latinos voted so heavily for Obama. Democrats labeled the GOP as anti-Latino because of the stringent immigration positions taken by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other conservatives.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.