The conventional wisdom seems to be that immigration reform legislation in the Senate is moving along as expected and without grounds for alarm, as the chamber voted 57-43 to table a border enforcement amendment offered by Chuck Grassley.

But let’s take a closer look.

The Grassley Amendment is generally being discussed as though it’s identical to the Cornyn Amendment, which in turn is supposedly the key to the whole deal. But there’s a rather important distinction between the two: Grassley’s measure would make even the most initial steps towards legalization strictly contingent on achievement of tough border enforcement benchmarks. Cornyn’s just blocks the “path to citizenship.”

Both amendments violate the basic principles of “comprehensive immigration reform,” but if Cornyn’s amendment says “No!” to reform, Grassley’s said “Hell No!” So I don’t know how happy reform supporters should be that 41 Republicans (plus two Democrats) voted against tabling the sucker, particularly when you note that just one Republican outside the Gang of Eight–Lisa Murkowski–defected from the hard-line position. It may not be as easy to secure 40 votes for a non-poisoned final bill as it was originally imagined, particularly if conservative begin to tell themselves the Cornyn Amendment itself is a compromise that represents as far as they will be willing to go.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.