Is the price to high for immigration reform this year? The Republicans still trying to grapple with the reality of the immigration issue are taking baby steps toward a comprehensive immigration reform bill. They unveiled a set of principles purportedly setting out heir willingness to engage in meaningful reform. On the one hand, the GOP has signaled that they are open to some form of regularization of status for the undocumented population, although they are way more sympathetic to undocumented youth/DREAMER age immigrants than older immigrants. But on the other hand is a really bad idea. Trying to balance the demands of the right wing of their party, the GOP has said they have come around to being in favor of granting legal status to the undocumented, but they wish to draw the line there. It is unclear given their recently issued "principles" whether previously undocumented immigrants given legal status will ever be able to naturalize. Many in the GOP claim what immigrants really want is to be legal and not look over one's shoulder all the time. But that claim belies the reality of the plethora of legal rights and privileges granted only to citizens.
If we as a nation were to sign on to this idea, to create a permanent class of persons who can never be full citizens, it would not be the first time our nation succumb to nativism (refer to the history of naturalization which contained racial prerequisites for much of our nation's history and other ignoble attempts at codifying second class citizenship described by Dan Tichenor). It does not become a democratic society to have a permanent caste of persons who are legal but unable to gain full citizenship.
Cynics will wonder whether this is a divide an conquer strategy on the part of the GOP. Indeed Julia Preston of The New York Times has reported that some DREAMER youth are considering supporting immigration reform efforts that might benefit them and leave older undocumented immigrants out. She wrote:
But behind the demands were signs of a willingness to consider something less than a direct path to citizenship for all the estimated 11.7 million immigrants in the country illegally, given that many Republican lawmakers remain reluctant even to take up the thorny issue this year, and that deportations by the Obama administration continue to be felt in immigrant neighborhoods.
The DREAMER youths and other activists need to resist trading a short term gain for a long term travesty of justice. Some activists are saying perhaps they will acquiesce to this arrangement to get the legilsation passed and then roll it back later. No,no, no! To permanently lock a group of persons into non-citzenship and then rely on the whims of the legislative process to undue that wrong is foolhardy--especially because immigrants, by law, cannot vote. The move would also set a precedent that the United States may have a permanent underclass who can never gain the full rights and privileges of citizenship. In this case, that half a loaf doesn't seem like such a great deal.