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Is Citizenship Extreme?

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By Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor at America’s Voice

The House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on immigration reform clarified that many Republicans are opposed to a clear path to citizenship. Even Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) identified the “question of the day” as whether there was a third way between two “extremes”: mass deportation and citizenship.

San Antonio mayor Julián Castro neatly avoided the trap, responding that in reality, the two extremes were mass deportation and open borders—and that, therefore, citizenship was the middle ground.

Is citizenship “extreme”? Extreme, to me, sounds more like creating a second-class status for people, good enough to serve as cheap labor but not for the rights citizenship bestows.

A recent La Opinión editorial summed it up perfectly: not offering a clear and explicit path to citizenship for the undocumented “is an insult to our history and a betrayal of our pride as a nation of immigrants.”

Not since the abolition of slavery have there been restrictions prohibiting a specific group of people from obtaining citizenship. Now, some are proposing exactly that for undocumented immigrants—most of whom are Hispanic.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, including Idaho Congressman Raúl Labrador, are talking about legalization without the possibility of citizenship. As Labrador, a former immigration lawyer, explains it, undocumented immigrants would receive “non-immigrant visas” protecting them from deportation, and would then be able to get in one of the existing lines for citizenship: through work, being sponsored by children once they have reached the age of 21, etc. But if it were so easy, why haven’t the 11 million undocumented already done that? In our broken and overwhelmed immigration system, the “line to get into”, for all intents and purposes, does not exist. So it’s ironic that Labrador, who is himself only a citizen thanks to an act of Congress—the Jones Act of 1917, which granted United States citizenship to Puerto Ricans—is now objecting to a so-called “special” path to citizenship for the undocumented.

On the Senate side, Marco Rubio, the young Republican senator from Florida, cleverly describes his proposal as providing a path to “eventual” citizenship—also through the existing channels, which is to say, sending people to the end of a line that, in practice, does not exist, in a process that could take decades at best.

Here’s the better idea: it is possible to reduce visa backlogs, and with them, the amount of time those currently waiting to get into the country have to spend in their various “lines.” This would, in turn, open up space for the millions of undocumented immigrants who would benefit from immigration reform.

No one is talking about a “special” pathway. Everyone shares the premise that the path to citizenship will be a difficult and demanding process that will take years. But it must also be a direct, inclusive, reasonable and achievable process. Poll after poll concludes that a majority of U.S. citizens are in favor of a path to citizenship—the very policy Republicans are calling “extreme.” A Public Policy Polling poll found that 64% of voters across the country support a path to citizenship—including 44% of Republicans.

The irrational thing—the extreme thing—is that in the 21st century, the party of Ronald Reagan, the man who signed into law the last amnesty (which really was an amnesty) in 1986, is calling a path to citizenship “extreme.” In the process, they are trampling the immigrant tradition that has been America’s defining trait for the length of our history.