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Citizenship: The Mainstream Position in the Immigration Debate

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house hearingDuring the House Judiciary Committee immigration hearing yesterday, Republicans’ attempted to define a policy that offers undocumented immigrants “legal residency but not a path to citizenship” as the “middle-ground option in the debate over immigration” according to the New York Times.  Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) asked, “Are there options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?”

As San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro rightly pointed out in response to Goodlatte’s question:

I would disagree with that characterization of that as the extreme. The extreme I would say just to fill that out, would be open borders.

Castro is right.  Earned citizenship already is the “middle-ground option” in the immigration debate.  Americans back it, including in direct head-to-head polls against the “legal status without citizenship” alternative (see below).  Not only that, but if Republicans are really serious about repairing their relationship with Latino voters, promoting a second-class status for millions of Latinos and other immigrants is the wrong way to do it.

  • Positioning: Earned citizenship already is the mainstream, “middle-ground option”: Despite burgeoning attempts by Rep. Goodlatte, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and others to position earned citizenship as an “extreme” position, the opposite is the case – the House Republican push for “no citizenship” is the outlier, outside the mainstream. As Washington Post political blogger Greg Sargent writes today, “Now, it’s true that in being open to some sort of legal status, Republicans have moved a bit. But that’s only a reflection of how extreme their original position — that any sort of legal status of any kind constitutes unacceptable ‘amnesty’ — really was. The current openness to legal status does not constitute ‘middle ground.’ By any reasonable measure, their position remains marginal, while the Dem position squarely occupies that ‘middle ground’.  That’s because the Democratic position — one that, in fairness, is shared by GOP Senators like John McCain and Marco Rubio, but not the vast majority of Republicans in the House — is a compromise position, in the sense that it calls for a mix of what both sides want, i.e, beefed up enforcement on one side, and citizenship on the other.”
  • Polling: Citizenship is preferred overwhelmingly compared with a legalization but no citizenship alternative: Citizenship is supported by the majority of Americans, in poll after poll.  A January poll from Republican pollsters Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollsters Hart Research asked voters’ preference between earned citizenship vs. legalization without a shot at citizenship.  By a whopping 87%-7% margin, Americans preferred citizenship, with 83% of Republicans, 91% of Democrats, and 82% of Independents expressing support for the citizenship option over the legalization, but no citizenship alternative.
  • Politics: Republican “Latino problem” entrenched if GOP pushes for permanent second-class participation in American society: A push to make this group of Latino immigrants permanent second-class non-citizens will only serve to entrench the GOP’s current image among Latinos as the lead obstacle to real and full immigration reform.  Additionally, it will keep the issue alive.  As Jordan Fabian of ABC News/Univision states, “as long as the issue remains unresolved, or ‘on the table,’ Democrats will blame Republicans for its failure. And no matter who is actually to blame, it’s a safe bet that most Hispanic and Latino voters are likely to pin blame on Republicans given how poor the party’s brand is in the community.”

According to our Executive Director Frank Sharry:

There’s broad support for full citizenship over second class status because that’s how we do things in America. If you’re paying taxes and meeting all the same requirements as a citizen, you should be able to earn citizenship.  With the end of slavery, America decided to never again create a separate class of people who are blocked from becoming citizens, and we shouldn’t start now.  Not only is second-class status a bad policy option, it’s bad politics for the GOP.  It tells Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters that their loved ones are good enough to cook for us, clean for us, and take care of our children, but they can never become one of us.