Border security or bust

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., gestures as he speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013, during the committee's hearing to discuss the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act. The committee in the Republican-led House is preparing to cast its first votes on immigration this year, on a tough enforcement-focused measure that Democrats and immigrant groups are protesting loudly. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster

There are strong arguments for the immigration reform bill proposed by the Senate “Gang of Eight.” But it’s not going to become law unless the legislation delivers firm assurances of enhanced border security.

And arguing that the bill is necessary to save the Republican party from electoral disaster shouldn’t be near the top of its adocates’ pitch list.

That, however, didn’t stop Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the gang’s members, from warning Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

“If we don’t pass immigration reform, if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016. We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party, and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Many other conservatives dispute that assessment, sounding this conflicting alarm of their own: The reform bill, if passed, would deliver a devastating electoral blow to the GOP by bringing in many more Hispanic voters, a group that has been trending heavily for Democrats in recent elections.

Hey, forecasting the next election is tricky enough — a fact frequently re-confirmed over the last year and a half. Projections of long-term voting patterns are even more often mistaken.

Yet while the political class fixates on the immigration legislation’s ballot-box implications, there are far more significant matters to consider.

For instance, both sides in this debate acknowledge that our current immigration system has long been broken, placing intensifying, stresses on not just local and state governments but the business and agricultural sectors, as well.

Several states, including our own, have passed immigration laws that face serious — and costly — court challenges.

Those state laws were passed because the federal government has failed, over the last several decades, to fulfill its essential obligation of enforcing our roughly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. That makes border security a high priority in the immigration reform legislation.

As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., put it Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”: “The vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of conservative Republicans are prepared to support immigration reform, but only if we can ensure that we’re not going to have another wave of illegal immigration in the future.”

Unfortunately, many conservatives felt far from assured last week after the Senate, by a 53-47 vote, rejected an amendment to the immigration bill from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. It would have required a “controlled border” for six months before any immigrant here could start on “the pathway to citizenship.”

And on Tuesday afternoon, the Senate defeated, by a 54-39 margin, an amendment from South Dakota Republican John Thune to complete 350 miles of two-tier border fencing before illegal immigrants can gain legal status, and for another 350 miles to be built before they can get green cards.

Maybe such amendments are needed to properly safeguard the border. Maybe not.

But clearly, lawmakers backing the bill, including Sen. Graham, must still win over lawmakers who are insisting on tougher border-security provisions. That group includes Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Even if the bill gets through the Democratic-controlled Senate, it’s highly unlikely to pass in the Republican House unless those valid concerns are fairly satisfied

That would be a shame.

Because while the legislation’s potential political fallout remains a hot topic of debate, there’s no disputing this fact:

Sticking with the dysfunctional status quo of federal immigration policy is not a responsible option.