Cross-posted at USA Today:
If immigration reform is to succeed, Congress needs to create a road map to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who want to be full-fledged Americans. That road map should consist of:
Reasonable requirements. Immigrants must pass background checks, pay taxes, study English and be of good moral character.
A reasonable time frame. The path to citizenship should take no longer than eight years.
Some conservatives say this group of immigrants should be given permanent work permission but never be given a chance to become citizens. Others, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., argue that members of this group should be eligible for citizenship only if they go through established channels and go to the back of the line.
The first proposal would lead to a de jure citizenship restriction. Since the end of slavery, America has never created a separate class of people who can never earn citizenship, and we should not start now.
The second proposal would lead to a de facto citizenship restriction. The established channels are so restrictive and the current lines so backlogged that most of the 11 million would remain ineligible for citizenship for decades, if ever.
There is a way forward that is fair to those waiting in line outside the country and honors our tradition of encouraging citizenship. Congress should clear out the backlogs so that those currently in line are admitted over the next few years. Since they enter as permanent residents, they would be eligible for citizenship five years later.
Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants here would only be able to convert their conditional status to permanent resident status once the backlog is cleared. This puts them at the back of the citizenship line, but in a way that makes them eligible for citizenship beginning in eight years or so.
As Americans, we believe that all people should be treated fairly, no matter the color of your skin or the country of your birth. And let’s face it: Immigrants aspiring to be citizens are Americans in all but paperwork.
Our country’s immigration laws should encourage and reward those willing to make a strong commitment to the nation they now call home.