Ruben  Navarrette Jr.,

Now that Democrats have taken control of both the House and Senate, questions are being asked about what this dramatic turn of events means for the immigration debate and for President Bush's chances to get a comprehensive reform package through Congress.

It could mean quite a bit. President Bush told reporters in his post-election news conference that his administration now had "a good chance" at comprehensive reform, which would include guest workers along with a path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants. Saying that he hoped Republicans would acknowledge that some of their border security concerns had been addressed, Bush also expressed hope that this was an issue on which he could find common ground with Democrats.

He may be right. The conventional wisdom had been that comprehensive reform -- what the closed-border, closed-mind crowd calls ``amnesty'' -- was dead. Then came the midterm elections. Now what is dead is the conventional wisdom.

Political pundits and congressional observers have been telling us for months that any Republican who jumped on the bandwagon of immigration restrictions and anti-amnesty rhetoric would ride to certain victory. The assumption was that scores of Americans would base their votes on this one issue alone, and that toughness sells -- the tougher the candidate was on illegal immigration, the easier it would be to clinch the election.

Republican members of Congress filmed campaign commercials showing them posing next to border walls or saddling up to ride with posses, all to try to get voters to forget that it was Republicans who helped get us into this mess by refusing to spend the money on border enforcement or stiffening the penalties against employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Personally, I always suspected that the immigration issue wouldn't pay the dividends for the GOP that some people insisted. Not when Republicans seemed so determined to puncture the enthusiasm of their own voters by approving cosmetic enforcement measures while offering no ideas about what to do with 12 million illegal immigrants who are already in this country. Many of the restrictionists who are convinced that this is a national crisis want radical reforms -- illegal immigrants rounded up and deported, the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants denied citizenship, the Army put on the U.S.-Mexico border, a reduction in legal immigration and so on.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.,

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Be the first to read Ruben Navarrette's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.