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Let’s Get This Straight: Immigration Reform Must Put the Undocumented on a Path to Citizenship

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With immigration reform legislation moving to the top of Washington’s post-inauguration “To Do” list, it’s important to get some things clear from the start regarding workable and humane reform.  The heart of the matter?  What are we as a society going to do with 11 million undocumented immigrants who are settled in America.  The only solution that works from both a moral and a practical perspective?  Creating a common sense immigration process that “creates a line to get into,” one that puts the 11 million undocumented on a path to citizenship.

Over the past week, immigration reform has leapt to the top of the Presidential and Congressional “To Do” list.  Democrats, starting with the President, clearly want to do it.  Republicans, from John Boehner to John McCain, now recognize they need to do it.  But one question keeps popping up, either directly or indirectly: should the undocumented be eligible for full citizenship, or only for something less than that, such as permanent residence without a path to citizenship?  For example, Sean Hannity made it clear where he now stands when he said he had “evolved” and now supports a “pathway to citizenship.”  Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer called on Republicans to make a bold change in policy, but called for “amnesty, everything short of citizenship.”

President Obama, who made it crystal clear during his first post-election press conference yesterday that immigration reform is a top priority he expects to work on with Congress shortly after inauguration, may have inadvertently contributed to this debate when he called for, “a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country…”  Though some interpreted President Obama’s usage of the phrase “legal status” as a signal that he would accept something other than full citizenship, we didn’t.  For one, the White House clarified after his comments that the President remains committed to eventual “citizenship” for the undocumented.  Moreover, the President’s position has been crystal clear in favor of full citizenship, as laid out by the Obama Administration’s official immigration blueprint and in his substantial immigration-focused speeches.

Remarkably, the President and Democrats in Congress who are committed to creating a path to citizenship recently have been joined by a number of the Republicans and conservatives, including Senators Rand Paul, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller and Lindsey Graham, each of whom have highlighted their openness to eventual citizenship.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:

Immigration reform that puts the undocumented on the road to full citizenship and participation in American life is the right thing to do and the practical thing to do.  We’re talking about Americans-in-waiting, most of whom have lived and worked in this country for more than a decade.  Instead of sending them to the back of the bus we should proudly reaffirm our American tradition of welcoming those who are willing to accept as full equals those who learn our language, pledge allegiance to our flag and contribute to our success.  And for Republicans interested in getting this issue behind them so they can regain their competitiveness with Latino voters?  Be practical.  Deal with this once and for all.  Help create a ‘line to get into,’ support full citizenship and share in the credit of having gotten it done.  Don’t fight to give these new Americans something less than full citizenship.  If you succeed in getting less than full citizenship, you’ll only succeed in cementing your brand as the party that doesn’t want to treat Latino immigrants equally.  And that would undermine one of the purposes of doing this in the first place.