Pathway to citizenship: Could it derail comprehensive immigration reform?

Pathway to citizenship: Could it derail comprehensive immigration reform?

Washington : DC : USA | Jan 25, 2013 at 4:54 PM PST
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Pathway to citizenship an vital component of Dem immigration reform proposal

The White House revealed today that President Barack Obama will announce an immigration-reform proposal in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

This proposal, Obama assured members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) in a strategy meeting, will include a call for legislation to create a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally. Obama called immigration reform “a top priority” for his second term. But will the pathway to citizenship plank derail his good intentions?

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif), a CHC member and committed advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, was pleased with today’s meeting with the president. “We all agree,” she reflected afterward in a statement, “that comprehensive reform must include an earned pathway to citizenship and are happy to have the full support of the President on this issue.”

Other members who met with Obama today included Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.); Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), chairman of the caucus' immigration task force; and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), chairman of the Democratic caucus. It was a powerhouse strategy session of pro-reform leaders who are all of one mind about the pathway-to-citizenship component.

Senate initiatives

This week, Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid, sent a message in accord with Obama's commitment to the pathway-to-citizenship component. It's a tradition, as each new Congress begins, for the Senate majority leader to submit top-priority bills reflecting the issues they most want to tackle. This year’s first Senate bill, S. 1, is on comprehensive immigration reform, outlining ten important principles that reform will accomplish. First on the list is the Democrats' affirmation that their mission is to “create a roadmap for immigrants who are here without legal status to earn citizenship,” given certain conditions.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate working group has been hammering out a proposal on immigration reform behind closed doors. They have “agreed tentatively on a path to citizenship, which is the big stumbling block,” Reid told a Nevada news outlet. But that agreement might not fly with the entire Congress.

No to “amnesty”

But not everyone who supports immigration reform is equally in agreement with the ten principles that S.1 lays out. And of the ten, the pathway-to-citizenship issue faces the toughest fight.

Pathway to citizenship is the “single most divisive issue that lawmakers will have to overcome,” declares a report in the National Journal. Pathway to citizenship is the first and most likely roadblock that could derail immigration reform. Although many Democrats insist that pathway to citizenship is the top priority, just as many Republicans are firmly opposed to anything resembling what they call amnesty.

Self-described conservative George Rodriguez, the president of the South Texas Alliance for Progress, prefers to see a guest-worker program. His statement in a newspaper op-ed column represents well the point of view that takes a dim view of the pathway to citizenship component: “[I]llegal immigration is illegal, and any amnesty with full citizenship will only reward illegal behavior.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declared Wednesday that advocates for a pathway to citizenship will have to compromise and accept temporary status instead, with no special road to citizenship.

The democratic choice

The United States needs—and deserves—a system of immigration law that befits a democracy. To that end, it requires a system of law that values the preservation of families and allows them to stay together.

The US under the Obama has conducted a record number of removals of immigrants present in the country without authorization, earning Obama the nickname “deporter-in-chief.” But by the middle of last year, 5,100 US citizen children in 22 states were living in foster care, creating a drain on the human-services system and a humanitarian disaster. And an enforcement-only approach seems unworkable when reasonable estimates suggest 11 million people could qualify for deportation.

Second, the US needs a system of immigration law that defends worker dignity and protects the worker from exploitation. Guest-worker programs are not new, and they have not worked in the past. It is far too easy for exploitation to become systematic. And guest workers create a second tier of citizenship. Tolerating a segment of second-class citizens who can live in US society and contribute their work to our community but not participate as citizens is not congruent with a democracy.

The realistic choice?

The nation now must wait until next Tuesday for Obama’s specific proposals. And the Senate has yet to produce an immigration bill. We stand at the beginning of the process, hoping that the result will be comprehensive immigration reform. Doubtless, reform's pathway-to-citizenship component will be contentious and critical. But will it be a deal-buster?

With filibuster reform failing, Rubio's immigration proposal could provide the best chance the US will have for the next two years to offer legal status to millions of people. Rubio has outlined a detailed plan that, while not yet a legislative proposal, could potentially rally GOP support.

Rubio’s plan gives conservatives some reassurance by putting border issues in the forefront. It appears likely that his plan will place a substantial delay between some form of provisional legalization and legal-worker status or possibly citizenship. While the Rubio plan does not give undocumented youth a fast track to citizenship, they won’t be excluded, either. And they can go through the process while living in the US legally. And Rubio doesn’t include any penalties for legalization.

Politics is seldom a winner-take-all affair. Politicians need to work on hammering out the best deal possible. Politics is all about compromise.

Let’s not let the pathway-to-citizenship plank derail comprehensive immigration reform.


The Hill

Bill Text S.1.IS

American Immigration Council, Immigration Impact

National Journal, “6 Potential Roadblocks to Immigration Reform”

The Sequin Gazette

Real Clear Politics

The New York Times

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Will pathway to citizenship derail comprehensive immigration reform?
Will the pathway to citizenship component derail comprehensive immigration reform? [Image credit: DieselDemon, Flickr Creative Commons]
Billie Greenwood is based in Davenport, Iowa, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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