Immigration Reform 2013: Is Path to Citizenship Too Much For Republicans?

The immigration battle brewing on Capitol Hill is evolving as the bi-partisan "Gang of 8" unveils their bi-partisan proposal for a reformed immigration system. The proposal was released to the media and the public on Tuesday, although actual announcement to the press was canceled due to the Boston Marathon bombings.

The document details a sweeping change to the United States’ immigration system. In it are things sure to please and anger to those that want to focus on border security, those who want to focus on backlog of immigrants, and those who wish for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the united states for years. But the legislation faces a rocky road as it enters the next stage of lawmaking.

The path to citizenship and improved border security are fundamentally linked in the proposal. The pathway that most undocumented immigrants will face is a long and difficult road. Thirteen years is the earliest that most undocumented immigrants could become citizens from the date of the passage of the act. During this period, applicants must live in the United States for 10 years, pay all taxes during the period, work regularly in the U.S., pass English and Civics courses, and pay fines the lowest of which are $1,000.

And if several of the border security triggers, such a visa-tracking system to ensure that employers do not knowingly hire undocumented workers and achieving a "90% effectiveness" for border security, the time-line will become even longer as other provisions in the bill are linked to these goals being met.

Provisions are made for children of undocumented immigrants, known as "Dreamers," after the failed DREAM Act, who could apply for a Green Card after five years of waiting and meeting the requirements and begin the application or citizenship immediately after receiving it. Foreign agricultural workers, the labor backbone of the United State’s farming industry, would be also be allowed to apply for Green Cards after five years but not apply for citizenship immediately.

The provision of a Path to Citizenship, even a 13 year one is sure to anger those who want tighter borders. Reaction was muted Tuesday on Capitol Hill in deference to the victims of the Boston marathon bombing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) took no questions on the proposal. Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) commented briefly on the tragedy while obliquely mentioning the immigration debate. King said, "Some of the speculation that has come out is that yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa. If that’s the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture." Immigration is one of King's top issues.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) began pushing the plan in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday in an op-ed written in advance, saying that, "We believe our legislation represents a responsible, humane and enduring solution to the problem of the millions who are here illegally while continuing to attract and assimilate some of the most skilled talent the world has to offer — but only if we also make good on broken promises to secure U.S. borders and enforce the law."

Although the response may be muted, it will surely pick up as the immigration reform bill heads to hearings and possible debate in Congress. Anti-immigration republicans will probably protest the inclusion of a path to citizenship. Such cries over "amnesty" for undocumented workers sank the previous attempt at immigration reform in 2007 during the George W. Bush administration.

The link between a pathway to citizenship and specific requirement of applications is supported by over 62% of Republicans according the Pew Research Center. For those in the Republican Party who do not ideologically oppose a path to citizenship the immigration bill will prove to either a step to compromise with President Barack Obama or a verification of their strategy of just saying no to allowing the president any legislative victories whatsoever.

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Gabriel Rodriguez

Gabriel Rodriguez is currently studying for a Masters in Applied Economics at Georgetown. He is a graduate of New College of Florida with a degree in Economics. He is interested in econometrics, statistical analysis, behavioral economics, and developmental economics.

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