I think there's a big but hidden political upside for conservative reformers -- if they win the argument. That's because immigration reform won't just force the right to confront its revanchist elements, but also the 47-percenters -- the much larger faction of the conservative movement that views Americans who rely on government assistance disdainfully, as bought-off members of the Democratic coalition.
In their inimitable way, the editors of National Review exposed the broader challenge for conservative immigration reformers.
"While many are in business for themselves, they express hostile attitudes toward free enterprise in polls," they wrote. "They are disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support. More than half of Hispanic births are out of wedlock. Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies."
That's the conservative elite's polite way of opposing comprehensive immigration reform. The problem isn't that they're brown, but that they're poor. This is straight 47 percenterism, and it's just as politically deadly when dressed up as an argument against immigration reform as it is when wielded against the shiftless hoards of the right's fever dreams.
More and more Republicans are coming around to the realization that this is a problem. It's my suspicion that Marco Rubio understands it's a problem. And it's particularly a problem for him if he wants to be President in 2016. Immigration reform or no, it's not going to happen if he has to win over a base that's thick with disdain for half the country. Immigration reform gives him an opportunity to confront that element of the party by proxy, and break it of bad habits. If he's successful -- big if -- the long-term political upside for him and for the broader GOP will be huge.