On the issue of immigration reform in the United States, creating a path toward legalization for the millions of undocumented people living in this country must be our ultimate goal. The dilemma we are faced with, of course, is which of two possible approaches to take: We can do it all at once, or we can do it gradually.
In the first approach, President Barack Obama and the Democrats would attempt to get blanket legislation passed that would grant citizenship to most of the 11 million undocumented residents in the United States. Democrats consider the results of last year’s presidential election _ in which Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote _ a mandate to implement sweeping reform quickly, so they would be able to rely on a support from the Hispanic community.
The gradual approach, which is favored by most Republicans, calls for a more piecemeal solution to the nation’s immigration situation, which would likely take several years to implement. But first, before citizenship is granted to a single undocumented immigrant, GOP lawmakers want enhanced security along the U.S.-Mexico border; a reliable employment verification system; and a temporary guest-worker program for immigrants. Once those things are in place, Republicans would be willing to talk legalization _ and they would start with the “Dreamers,” who are the focus of the Dream Act bill: undocumented workers’ children who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 18.
Since his election, President Obama has indicated several times that he will push Congress for immigration reform this year. What he hasn’t said is whether he will craft his own legislation or if he’ll leave it up to congressional Democrats. Either way, it’s very important that the president gets involved in the process. Sixty votes in the Senate and 238 in the House of Representatives are required for the passage of any immigration bill. At this point, there is not enough support for reform in Congress, but the president and the Democrats hope that Republicans are still so alarmed by their poor showing among Hispanic voters during the election that they will be willing to negotiate.
But that is not enough. Some Republicans are just as opposed to citizenship for the undocumented as they are to tax increases. They see legalization as “amnesty,” and no matter how much immigration advocates insist that the suggested solutions are not about reprieves or pardons for immigrants _ since penalties, delays and limitations would likely be part of any bill _ these lawmakers remain unmovable.
The simple fact is that rather than demanding citizenship, millions of undocumented residents would settle for a work permit that keeps them from being deported _ after all, their priority is not to become citizens but rather to be able to live openly, within the protection of the law. But the U.S. cannot create a class of half-citizens nor of sub-citizens, which is what a gradual approach would entail. If we will all continue to be equals in this country, undocumented people must have an opportunity to become American citizens with all the rights that citizenship entails.
They should become citizens all at once.
United We Dream, a national organization made up of thousands of young undocumented residents who support passage of the Dream Act, is setting an example of how the focus from gradual reform can be shifted to a more complete objective. From a political standpoint, it would be easier for the group to continue to focus on the Dream Act, which has a growing amount of support in Congress. But at a recent gathering in Kansas City, Mo., members decided that being granted a path to citizenship while their parents remain in limbo would not make much sense, so they decided that they would make comprehensive reform for all undocumented residents a priority. They also decided to exert pressure on politicians so that it happens early this year.
So what is the problem with step-by-step reform that can be accomplished over several years? For one, the 2012 election demonstrated that immigration is the top issue for the Hispanic community, the fastest growing demographic group among American voters _ we have the momentum we need now. Plus we have simply waited too long, and waiting longer will only mean that the immigration debate will continue to be electoral issue that politicians will fight over every two years.
Those who think that we should keep waiting should think about the parents who go to work every morning not knowing whether they’ll return to see their children at night. An arrest, a raid _ even a simple traffic infraction _ can lead to deportation and to tragedy. No, the time for waiting is over.
If there is one thing we immigrants have learned, it is that America, when it wants something, is a nation that won’t wait.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos.
(January 8, 2013)