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Is "Pathway to Citizenship" Helping the GOP Kill Immigration Reform? By Roger Algase

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.


Update - November 24, 10:27 pm:

The Hill has a report dated November 24 with the title: After Iran, Obama shifts to immigration reform.

Negotiating a deal with the Mullahs to halt (or slow down) Iran's nuclear weapons program was the easy part. Negotiating with the Tea Party controlled House GOP leaders to bring about real immigration reform, including legalization for 11 million Latino and other minority immigrants, will be the hard part.

My original post follows:

The hot button issue du jour in the immigration reform battle is whether the "pathway to citizenship" for unauthorized immigrants will be included as part of any immigration reform bill. House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has spoken out against any "special" pathway to citizenship. This would leave immigrants who are now without legal status, but who might be granted provisional "legalization" if reform passes, with few options to become US citizens in the future.

Without even the lengthy, rocky and treacherous 13-year "pathway" to citizenship contained on the Senate-passed CIR bill (S. 744), "legalized" immigrants would only be able to become citizens through what Goodlatte calls "regular channels", i.e, first obtaining a green card through family relationship or employment, and then waiting for the required 3 or 5 years (depending on the type of case) to apply for citizenship.

Not many immigrants who are currently without legal status would be likely to qualify for a green card or citizenship under those conditions. Therefore, Goodlatte's purported willingness to consider offering citizenship through "regular channels" is only marginally better than making no offer at all.

It is, in fact, just a typical example of House Republicans' pretending to be willing to take up the issue of immigration reform while in fact doing close to nothing.

However, the media have seized on the "pathway" to citizenship (in the sense of a "special" pathway as contained in the Senate bill) as a litmus test for telling whether any given Republican is in favor of reaching out to the Latino and other immigrant communities by supporting reform, or is instead trying to appeal to the "conservative" Republican "base" (i.e. white supremacist bigots) by opposing reform.

In other words, the "pathway" to citizenship issue has become a synonym for immigration reform itself. No wonder that so-called "moderate" Republicans such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who won re-election with half of the Latino vote, are vigorously opposed to committing themselves one way or the other on this issue.

See Dan Balz: N.J. Gov. Christie practices GOP balancing act, Washington Post, November 23.

But, without downgrading the importance of citizenship and the right to vote, and granting that the GOP may have good reason to fear a backlash more than a decade from now if 11 million Latino and other minority immigrants whom the Republicans have been trying so hard to antagonize eventually gain the right to vote, one has to pause and ask whether the "pathway" issue is really at the heart of the immigration reform debate or not.

There is good reason to believe that citizenship is, at least to some extent, only a red herring being used by reform opponents to divert intention away from their real goal, which is to defeat "amnesty", i.e. any form of legalization or relief from deportation for unauthorized immigrants.

What is the basis for saying this? The answer is clear, if one looks at where the House Republicans stand to date on the issue of legalization or relief from deportation itself for 11 million immigrants. If the House Republican leadership is serious about legalization, where is their bill for accomplishing that?

So far as anyone knows, the only willingness that Goodlatte has shown even to talk about legalization has been though holding out the possibility of granting relief from deportation to DREAMER's, and not even all of those.

True, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has announced a proposal that would grant temporary legalization all 11 million unauthorized immigrants for six short years, but provide them no way to stay in the US after that unless they fit into some other already existing legal category by that time. In short, Issa's proposal would turn 11 million people into temporary guest workers and then send most of them home after six years. See Seung Min Kim's report in Politico: Darrell Issa to introduce immigration bill, October 23.

What kind of legalization is that? And where is Issa's bill anyway? He announced it a month ago, and there has been no news about it since, so far as I am aware. Everything else that the House Republican leadership has said about reform is calculated to avoid taking up the issue for legalization.

This is the reason for the House's "piecemeal" approach to reform: "piecemeal" is just a euphemism for tinkering around the edges of reform while ignoring its heart - legalization for 11 million people.

In the same way, Speaker John Boehner's adamant refusal to negotiate with the Senate about its own reform bill is an obvious message that House Republicans are not willing to discuss broad legalization.

And if the House Republicans are not willing to talk or do anything about legalization, what is the point of arguing about citizenship, which could only come after someone is legalized or granted some form of relief from deportation?

If someone is not allowed to go inside the restaurant, what is the point of discussing what will be on the menu?

This may sound cynical, but one has to consider the possibility that the anti-immigrant Republicans are hoping that immigration supporters will insist on reform with the "special" pathway to citizenship at all costs. Then the GOP's right wing zealots can defeat "amnesty", i.e. legalization, which is their real goal, but still try to convince Latino voters that the only reason for not supporting reform was the Democrats insistence on including the pathway to citizenship in any final bill.

This is not to say that the pathway to citizenship is not a good thing, or that a "two-tiered" society in which many minority immigrants could stay in the country legally without the right to vote is consistent with America's ideals.

But if immigration advocates focus on citizenship to the exclusion of legalization, and this allows the Tea Party and other Republican right wing bigots to divert attention away from their fundamental insistence on deporting 11 million immigrants at all costs, or if it gives the Republicans an excuse to kill legalization, using the less urgent, if not totally fake (in the above context) citizenship issue as an excuse, immigration supporters will be doing no service to the people they are trying the hardest to protect.

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Updated 11-25-2013 at 04:01 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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