Marco Rubio’s participation in the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform proposal is significant because he’s a major conservative hero who has abandoned two of the foxholes his ideological colleagues long occupied: (1) No movement towards legalization until border enforcement is accomplished; and (2) Legalization confined to “permanent residency” or “Guest Worker” status, not actually citizenship. He’s done so in part by helping design a “path to citizenship” regimen in which steps towards broad-based citizenship access is “triggered” by accomplishment of various border enforcement “benchmarks.”

But the counter-argument we may soon hear constantly from conservatives, and that will place a lot of pressure on Rubio, is one articulated today by long-time comprehensive reform foe Mickey Kaus at the Daily Caller:

Legalized “provisionals” have no reason to pressure the government into speedy enforcement (the way they would in a real Enforcement First scheme). But there is a big incentive for immigrant advocates to sue and hold up enforcement until 2023, ten years out, when the whistle blows and they win.

This is all ignoring the biggest factor the law’s language doesn’t discuss-which is that once the bill passes and 11 million illegals are legalized, politicians will start competing for the Latino vote by shortening the 10 year path to a green card-to 8 years, or 6 years, and well, why should it matter if the E-Verify system isn’t anywhere close to universal and an exit-Visa system is only in place at a couple of airports?

Kaus seems to be suggesting that the battle to thwart some final destination of citizenship in the bill should give way to an effort to keep undocumented workers illegal until enforcement is improved, and/or to build in hard, unavoidable enforcement “triggers” before those holding green cards have any hope of moving on to citizenship.

It’s not as clean a fight as simply opposing “amnesty,” but it has the benefit of shifting the debate to the details of legislation in a way that tempts Republicans to have it both ways: Hey, I’m for a “path to citizenship,” but only under “certain conditions.” It’s the sort of argument that could unravel the fragile bipartisan coalition the Gang of Eight is trying to assemble while giving House Republicans a new foxhole to occupy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.