A member of Congress close to negotiations in the House is confident a bipartisan immigration reform bill will pass this summer. “It will include a pathway to citizenship, and this will occur because the bill will include strong enforcement and security measures,” the legislator said to NBC Latino.
The question of whether undocumented citizens should eventually be able to pursue citizenship has been a sticking point in immigration reform talks. Idaho Republican congressman Raul Labrador said, “people who came here illegally, knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship.” Labrador, a former immigration attorney, has said he knows undocumented families for whom legalization and a chance to work is what is important, not citizenship. He added this scenario has more support from Republican conservatives. “I think we should normalize your status, but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship,” said Labrador in a National Public Radio interview.
One Congressional staffer close to the negotiations says there could be ways to thread the needle on immigration reform which does not preclude citizenship. One way is through supporting strong enforcement mechanisms and border security.
“From a political standpoint in the House and Senate, you kind of have to figure out what policy meets the middle ground, so that for Republicans it is a tough and earned path to legalization, and to Democrats it’s tough and earned but generous and solves the problem of undocumented immigrants,” says the staffer.
Kristian Ramos, Policy Director of the 21st Century Border Initiative for the New Democrat Network (NDN), an organization which advocates for immigration reform, says, “I would be very surprised if there isn’t a pathway to citizenship coming out of the House that is not tied to border metrics. If it comes down to no pathway to citizenship or a pathway to citizenship with these metrics clearly outlined, then I think that is a positive way forward.”
Clarissa Martinez de Castro, from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), says another factor to consider is whether legislators would ultimately go through with endorsing a permanent path to legalization without an eventual path to citizenship.
“The question for Congress is, are its members prepared to break with the tradition of this country, and take a vote that would actively relegate people to be second-class citizens in perpetuity?” says Martinez de Castro, who supports a pathway to citizenship. “When it comes down to it, it would be interesting to see if there are members willing to be seen as the Congress who took a vote to create a caste system of people who would be able to work but never become Americans? “
Another way House and Senate members might eventually vote for a pathway to citizenship is through what could be a lengthy process for citizenship. “In some versions of a bill a person might apply for legal status and then have to wait 10 years before applying for lawful permanent residency and then a green card while legal residents are applying for citizenship first,” says NDN’s Ramos.
“It will definitely be a balancing act for both parties to get an immigration bill,” says a staffer working on negotiations.