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Greg Sargent Explains Pathway to Citizenship is The Middle Ground In Immigration Debate

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greg sargentAt The Plum Line, Greg Sargent has been getting to the crux of the policy and politics of immigration. Over the past couple days, he has written several important posts on the issue. This morning, Greg wrote:

In recent days, Republicans have begun to spin misleading impressions of the two parties’ positions in the immigration debate. They are casting the Dem embrace of a path to citizenship as “extreme” — as the polar opposite of mass deportation — in a bid to suggest that the GOP is the one open to the compromising middle ground. That middle ground is defined by Republicans as lying somewhere between an unconditional path to citizenship and nothing but beefing up enforcement and security.

The whole enterprise is deeply misleading.

It is deeply misleading. Last night, Greg provided an analysis of the House Judiciary Committee and cut through what he called the “rhetorical gimmicks.” And, he made the critical point: “supporting a pathway to citizenship is not an extreme position at all.” And, Greg actually uses polling, not talking points, to prove it:

One of the rhetorical gimmicks most frequently employed by Republicans in the tax debate is to falsely present the Democratic position as only calling for tax hikes, when in fact Dems have long supported a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts. The game here is to present the Dem and GOP positions (the Republican position being that we must fix our fiscal problems only through spending cuts) as polar opposites, when in fact Dems, broadly speaking, inhabit the compromising middle ground in the debate — the one supported by majorities of Americans — and Republicans don’t.

Now we’re seeing this same trick popping up in the immigration debate. This exchange at today’s immigration hearing between San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is worth noting, because it’s a hint of where this is heading:

“I want to give you an opportunity to answer the question of the day,” Goodlatte said, “and that is this: 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?”

Castro said he doesn’t see a pathway to citizenship as “an extreme option,” pointing out that Congress has previously chosen that option and arguing that it has worked.

“I would disagree with that characterization of that as the extreme,” Castro said. “The extreme I would say just to fill that out, would be open borders. Nobody agrees with open borders. Everyone agrees that we need to secure our border.”

In this telling, the two “extremes” in the debate are mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship. But of course, supporting a pathway to citizenship is not an extreme position at all. A recent Associated Press poll found that it’s supported by more than six in 10 Americans. Other polls from the Post, CNN, and Politico also found sizable majorities supportive of the same.

Beyond this, though, is another basic fact: The Dem position is not simply to offer a path to citizenship. It’s a path to citizenship with conditions and penalties attached, and combined with aggressive border enforcement. By any reasonable measure, it’s the middle ground, compromise position. Goodlatte’s framing is meant to obscure this, and you’ll be hearing a lot more of it,

We can also add the most recent poll from Public Policy Polling:

64% of voters nationally think illegal immigrants should be given a chance to apply for legal citizenship, compared to only 27% who think they should be deported back to their home countries. Over two thirds of white voters with an opinion on the matter (60/29) and a plurality of Republicans (44/41) support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the country.

The American people have made up their mind: they want the immigration issue solved with a path to citizenship. Latino Decisions polling found that overwhelming numbers of Latino voters want immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship:

Latino voters, indeed ALL voters, prefer a comprehensive reform plan that includes a path to citizenship. For non-Latinos, the preferred path is an “earned” citizenship, which likely includes provisions regarding back taxes and learning English. But the bottom line is that the creation of a permanent alien class, guest workers or another form of residency that never turns into full social membership, is a non-starter.

In our June 2011 poll, 75% of Latino registered voters wanted a comprehensive approach with a path to citizenship while only 14% preferred a “guest worker” approach.

The Democrats, led by President Obama, promised a path to citizenship. And Republicans need it. They need to deliver on a path to citizenship because that’s the middle ground, and that’s where we need to be.