I’ve flagged the pathway to citizenship (even more so than other forms of legalization) as the critical issue in the immigration debate.

Granting citizenship to adults who came here illegally is horrible policy which historically has proven a huge carrot to increased illegal immigration regardless of the rhetoric about how it never will happen again.

There was a time when even Marco Rubio understood this.

Democrats don’t care about the policy. Democrats openly (at least when speaking among themselves) tout the pathway to citizenship as a way to obtain more Democratic voters. There is little if any dissent on this point, and Democrats are sticking to it as a breaking point with good reason:

Citizenship is the political game, set and match. The rest is just details.

In the Senate, at least, 14 Republicans agree with the Democrats.

National Review and The Weekly Standard have a joint editorial today Kill The Bill, which makes many good points against the Gang of 8 bill, but skirts this core citizenship issue (h/t Power Line):

We are conservatives who have differed in the past on immigration reform, with Kristol favorably disposed toward it and Lowry skeptical. But the Gang of Eight has brought us into full agreement: Their bill, passed out of the Senate, is a comprehensive mistake. House Republicans should kill it without reservation.

There is no case for the bill, and certainly no urgency to pass it. During the debate over immigration in 2006–07, Republican rhetoric at times had a flavor that communicated a hostility to immigrants as such. That was a mistake, and it did political damage. This time has been different. The case against the bill has been as responsible as it has been damning.

It’s become clear that you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration – and vigorously oppose this bill….

Passing any version of the Gang of Eight’s bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.

Only a small number of Republicans, such as Ted Cruz, are willing to address the issue of citizenship head on.

It’s time for Republicans to address the citizenship issue, or risk losing the game, set and match.