Principle One: A Pathway to Earned Citizenship
Providing a Clear and Earned Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants
Comprehensive immigration reform offers a sensible solution that actually confronts multiple challenges head on while celebrating American values such as justice and meritocracy. One major component of any comprehensive immigration reform proposal will tackle legalizing the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, including 2 million undocumented children, currently living in this country. A key principle of this reform is to provide a clear and earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Under the current system, millions of people have been drawn to our country over the last twenty years due to labor demands, devastating trade agreements, and in hopes of fulfilling the promise of the American Dream. Thanks to a combination of unenforced laws, arbitrary visa limits, and a convoluted naturalization process, millions of people have ended up in legal limbo with few rights and protections. And as we’ve seen recently, an economic downturn means an upturn in scapegoating immigrants.
What Do We Mean by Earned Path to Citizenship?
To get on a path towards citizenship, undocumented immigrants working and living in the U.S. must complete a registration process, submit to reasonable background checks, pay an appropriate fine, pay taxes, and study English.
Undocumented immigrants who satisfy those requirements would be permitted to apply for lawful permanent status leading to citizenship. Legalization would also include the DREAM Act, which creates a pathway for undocumented students who came to this country as young children and graduate from high school, and AGJOBS, which creates a pathway for farm workers. With earned citizenship it could take up to 12 years to obtain a green card. This is a stringent and onerous process--not amnesty.
Why is Legalization Good for America?
BENEFITS THE ECONOMY
• A legal workforce eliminates a two-tiered labor system, creating a level playing field for all workers and businesses, raising wages, and reducing worker exploitation.
• Legalization would end the underground economy and increase the amount of taxes contributed to social security and benefit programs.
• Recently-legalized workers stimulate the economy by investing in education, opening businesses, buying houses, and fueling consumer spending
KEEPS AMERICA SAFE
• A registration process allows the government to know who is in the country and to perform criminal background checks when appropriate.
• National security and public safety are unduly focused on immigrant workers. This process will allow the Department of Homeland Security to focus on genuine threats to U.S. security.
• Legalization allows immigrants to fully integrate into our communities and participate in community life without fear.
• Only legalization and federal action can put an end to divisive local and state “reforms” that tear apart communities and devastate economies.
There are no sensible alternatives to legalization.
Deporting the undocumented population would be tantamount to deporting our economy. Additionally, the cost of such an operation is prohibitive and logistically impossible. The consequences for our economy, communities, and families would be devastating. Earned citizenship provides an American solution to help lift us out of a recession and create a stable economy.
Immigration is about Real Human Beings: Celeste's Story
Celeste, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, who came to the U.S. from Ghana on a student visa, have a five-year-old son named Kwazi. Her husband overstayed his visa and was in the process of gathering evidence that should have granted him political asylum, but corrupt immigration lawyers ruined his chances. Years of inept legal help – costing over $20,000 – only earned him a visit from ICE in 2007. He has been in hiding ever since, meeting up with his family in safe places, such as church. (A Seattle Weekly cover story features Celeste and the lawyer and system that betrayed her family.)
In May, one of their attorneys was disbarred after years of bungling cases which resulted in his clients losing their legal status or, in some cases, being deported. Corrupt lawyers preying on vulnerable clients. Byzantine and complicated laws. Overloaded immigration courts. Work visa allotments unchanged for a generation. All these factors lead to millions of people living in the shadows.
Celeste has been actively working with OneAmerica to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that includes an earned path to citizenship, so that their family can be reunited and others can come out of the shadows.
What do you think about Comprehensive Immigration Reform? Share Your Story!
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Readers have been sending us their thoughts on comprehensive immigration reform and sharing their own stories. Here’s a sample:
“It is just plain un-American, separating families. I have been seperated from my wife while trying to obtain a Visa for her to legally travel to America since Feb 2006.
I married her in 2002 and we tried to fix the problem by her going back to Mexico. I started filing the I-130 in 2007, but after all the forms and an appointment in Juarez, we were denied… I now have paid a lawyer $5,000 to re-file and write up the I-601 Extreme Hardship Letter. I am now waiting … on the 18- to 24-month decision.
Here I thought to do it the right way as an American, born here, [but] I am being denied the right to have my wife here legally.
- Edward Guerrero, Seattle
Check out Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform from the Center for American Progress.
It found that comprehensive immigration reform with a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants would result in $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. Conversely, a deportation-only policy would result in a loss of $2.6 trillion in GDP over the next decade. The report finds that wages would rise for immigrant and native workers.
AMERICANS SUPPORT THIS SOLUTION:
An August POLITICO poll found that 59 percent of the general population wants to see action on comprehensive immigration reform now, including 61% of Democrats and Independents and 59% of Republicans.
A recent University of Washington poll shows that registered voters in Washington want sensible solutions to immigration and that support for earned citizenship has only increased since 2006. Given several options to choose from – including deportation and a guest worker option – earned citizenship wins out with Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.
This finding mirrors polls nationwide that have revealed a high level of support for earned citizenship even amongst backers of Arizona’s SB1070 who said that their support comes from an increasing frustration with Congress’s inability to fix a broken system.