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It’s been a whirlwind of a day, following Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’s hyper-evolution on immigration reform with citizenship and the back-and-forth of what he actually supports. Paul has gone on the record supporting immigration reform with citizenship before, saying that we don’t need to “make it an easy path for citizenship, [but] there would be an eventual path.” And today, after giving a speech supporting immigration reform early in the day, he reiterated his support for a path to citizenship–though as Talking Points Memo wrote, Paul really does not like calling this idea a “path to citizenship.”
There’s quite a bit of confusion going on about what immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship would mean. As we’ve said many times, immigration reform must address the 11 million Americans-in-waiting already here, and it must create a path to legalization and citizenship for them. Right now, there is no such road. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants, under current law, have no way of becoming legal residents or US citizens, ever. No matter how long they’ve lived here, how deep their roots go, how much they’ve contributed, or how much their family members depend on them.
So immigration reform legislation must create that path. One topic up for debate is how long that pathway should take, from the point legislation is signed to the point where immigrants can start taking their oath of citizenship. The upcoming Senate bill would have immigrants wait for at least 13 years. President Obama’s leaked immigration bill would make 13 years a maximum. Advocate groups like United We DREAM have pushed for a bill that takes seven years or less. And Latino voters polled by Latino Decisions think the wait should be five years at most.
Rand Paul today—like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush before him—obfuscated between having a path to citizenship and creating a “special” path for citizenship. Creating a special path, in the most literal sense of the term, would allow current undocumented immigrants to become immigrants before current legal immigrants who are waiting for citizenship—and no one is advocating for that. But because there is no path for undocumented immigrants to become citizens right now, an “unspecial” path—one that is more or less like everyone else’s but that does not exist yet—should be created. And the route to citizenship should take years, not decades—waiting to officially become an American should not take longer than many immigrants have already been here.
Finally, there is the idea of second-class status, or what Republicans like Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) want to do in legalizing immigrants without ever letting them become citizens. And for this plan, there is no constituency. Latino voters don’t want permanent second-class status for their immigrant family members. Americans recognize that creating such a class would be un-American. Even anti-immigrant groups realize that immigration reform without citizenship would be the worst of all possible worlds.
If there’s something that should be learned from Jeb Bush and Rand Paul’s big immigration moves, it’s that citizenship is clearly the middle ground position in the immigration reform debate. It’s what Americans want, what Democrats promised, and what Republicans need—and there’s no need to even talk about anything less.