5 Signs That the Immigration Debate Is About to Get Ugly

PHOTO: kick

Republican representatives huddled on Wednesday to talk strategy, but the message was basically the same as it's been from the start: a big immigration bill that allows undocumented immigrants to become citizens isn't going anywhere in the House.

One thing that appears to be changing is the tone of the debate. With immigration reform stuck in neutral, supporters and detractors are cutting loose.

Here are five signs that the immigration debate is about to get ugly:

1. A steep ideological divide

We said it once, but it bears repeating: "path to citizenship." Democrats won't support a bill unless it gives the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants a way to become citizens.

A faction of House Republicans is outright opposed to that idea, which they see as "destroying the rule of law," in the words of committed "amnesty" opponent Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Party leadership in the House appears more open-minded. At the Wednesday meeting, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (Wis.) all stressed the need for Republicans to deal with immigration, perhaps in a more scaled-down way.

Given the tensions between both parties and within the Republican Party itself, expect to see some sparks in the coming months.

2. The new timeline

The Senate moved quickly (in congressional terms) to pass an immigration bill, but the House is in no rush to act.

Many House members said that they'd prefer their chamber to take a slower, step-by-step approach and pass elements of immigration reform in pieces. And it looks highly unlikely that the House will take major votes on immigration legislation before its August recess.

"When we deal with immigration reform, we have to get it done right the first time," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told reporters after leaving the meeting room.

Allowing the process to slip past the August recess doesn't bode well for reform. Lawmakers could face backlash against the process from Tea Party groups at town hall meetings, similar to what happened during the health care debate in 2009. And Congress will have to deal with the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution that funds the government in September and October, which could distract from the immigration push.

But there could be a silver lining. Some aides on Capitol Hill privately express hope that the if budget debates could draw headlines and attention away from immigration, that could give proponents of reform room to maneuver behind the scenes.

3. Mistrust of President Obama

One major theme that emerged out of the meeting was the Republicans' deep distrust of Barack Obama.

Republicans have questioned Obama's sincerity since the first year of his presidency. And several members said they don't trust the president to implement the border security elements of immigration reform, citing his administration's decision to delay a key portion of the health care law until 2015.

"Trusting Obama w/ border security is like trusting Bill Clinton w/ your daughter," Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) tweeted after the meeting.

Steve King told reporters after the meeting that Congress shouldn't do anything until the Obama administration toughens immigration enforcement under existing law, comparing the president to a rebellious teenager.

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