Republicans Divide Over Immigration Approach

Embrace the future or cling to the past


As bipartisan immigration legislation takes shape in Congress to grant legal status to the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, a quiet civil war is raging in the Republican Party on the issue.

Republican leaders and many top party strategists are embracing the effort as a political imperative for a party smarting from its demographically driven drubbing in 2012. Meanwhile, a vocal law-and-order faction—including activists who form the backbone of the party's electoral base—is increasingly motivated to block it, as it has done with previous attempts to revamp immigration policy.

The competing camps were on display last week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, where organizers gave prominent stage time to supporters of a broad immigration rewrite while relegating opponents to unofficial side events, neglecting even to mention them in the event's printed schedule. Ignoring the snub, activists peddled books and DVDs with messages bashing illegal immigration and milled around the hallways lamenting what they described as the softening of their party on a core value—the opposition to "amnesty" for those here illegally.