ROBINSON: A big problem that Washington might solve

<WC1>It was always clear that the 11 million people in this country without papers were not going to be rounded up and deported. The question was when our leaders would officially recognize this fact — which could only happen if Republicans decided that demonizing illegal immigrants was bad politics.

The November election answered that question. Mitt Romney said the magic word <WC>"<WC1>self-deportation<WC>"<WC1> and lost among Latino and Asian-American voters by nearly 3-to-1. Suddenly, the darkness lifted and Republicans began to see the light.

Some Republicans, but not all. Given the extensive overlap between the <WC>"<WC1>principles<WC>"<WC1> laid out by a bipartisan group of senators and those offered by President <WC>Barack <WC1>Obama, I believe there is a strong possibility that immigration reform can be accomplished within the next few months. But it still won't be easy.

<CS8.7>Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the key member of the Senate's pro-reform <WC>"<WC1>Gang of Eight,<WC>"<WC1> is being pilloried from the right for having the temerity to face economic, sociological and political reality.

</CS>Sen. David Vitter, R-La., called Rubio <WC>"<WC1>amazingly naive on this issue<WC>"<WC1> and also <WC>"<WC1>nuts.<WC>"<WC1> Some of the conservative commentariat has been less reserved.

National Review editor Rich Lowry called the Senate plan a <WC>"<WC1>scam<WC>"<WC1> that is likely to become <WC>"<WC1>a monument to bad faith.<WC>"<WC1> My <WC>Washington Post <WC1>colleague Charles Krauthammer called the proposal <WC>"<WC1>highly misleading<WC>"<WC1> and complained that it would lead to <WC>"<WC1>instant legalization<WC>"<WC1> for those here without papers. Rush Limbaugh has vowed to fight the measure with all he's got — but predicted that he and other opponents would ultimately lose.

<CS8.6>Many establishment figures in the party accept that the GOP cannot thrive, and perhaps cannot even survive, if the nation's biggest minority group becomes a permanent part of the Democratic Party coalition. They understand Rubio's analysis that immigration is a <WC>"<WC1>threshold<WC>"<WC1> issue for Latino voters — that if Republicans are seen as uncompromising and even hostile on this issue, many Latinos will not even give the party a hearing on the rest of its philosophy and agenda. They recognize that undocumented workers are integral participants in the nation's economic life.

</CS>The central task of immigration reform is the most controversial: designing some sort of legal status for the 11 million.

Critics on the right complain that this is unfair to would-be immigrants who are <WC>"<WC1>waiting in line<WC>"<WC1> to come into the country by following the rules. Some would have to wait years; many, probably most, would never make it in.

Truly comprehensive reform would include designing a viable legal pathway for those who want to come here and contribute their ambition, determination and skills. No such pathway exists now — and none existed for the millions who decided to enter the country without papers or overstay their visas.

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