Republican leaders in the House stressed from the beginning that a Gang of Eight-style comprehensive bill would have no chance. That's true, but what opponents worry is that the House will pass some sort of bill, even a limited one, that could then go to a House-Senate conference committee and eventually come out looking a lot like the original Gang of Eight bill.
Certainly some industry leaders seem to expect that. In August, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Carl Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a trade association that represents hundreds of high-tech companies, saying that after meeting with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, he's pretty sure immigration reform will pass.
"Kevin is a longtime personal friend," Guardino said, according to the Chronicle. "We just met one-on-one and I firmly believe, without breaking confidences, that we are going to see deliberative and thoughtful action in the House when they reconvene in September and October. I would bet on it."
Afterward, McCarthy told the paper he didn't say that, and a spokesman said only that the House "will move with its own ideas and solutions in an incremental way when it comes to immigration." But opponents of reform know that in addition to McCarthy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also favors reform, as does influential House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan.
The position of House Speaker John Boehner isn't fully clear, but at the moment, the entire GOP leadership team is consumed with the fight over government spending and the debt limit. In a recent interview, a House Republican said of the shutdown battle: "Until this gets settled, nothing else happens."
That could be a while. The spending and debt fight is unlikely to have a clean ending and could stretch out for months as Republicans and the White House negotiate some sort of final agreement.
But immigration reform is always in the background. On October 2, House Democrats introduced a Gang of Eight-style bill of their own. It's given zero chance of passage, but it will be a vehicle for Democrats, along with some Republicans, to keep up the pressure for reform. And then there is the well-funded pressure campaign from a variety of pro-reform business interests.
That's a lot of pressure. And it still might work, even though that seems unlikely at the moment. Just because immigration reform is in critical condition does not mean it cannot roar back to life.