Friday, January 31, 2014

House Republicans on Immigration

House Republicans released a one-page statement on immigration reform, which outlines what their version would look like. As you would expect, its importance is more symbolic than substantive. Most prominently, its existence serves as open acknowledgment that it is quite impossible to deport or detain the millions of people living in the country illegally, and therefore a humane solution is required. It is akin to admitting the sky is blue after insisting for years that it was green. It is also equivalent to holding up a sign that says, "Dear Latinos, we don't hate you as much as it seems."

So that part is at least a small step forward, but you have wonder how this mouthful will be translated into concrete policy:

Our national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws – that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.

What does it mean to prove the ability to support yourself? Sadly, these days a minimum wage does not allow a family to live without food stamps or other support. How will people come up with the cash for "significant" fines if they're also going to support themselves? Further, I've written before about enforcement triggers--Obama has cracked down harder on undocumented immigrants than any president in the history of the United States, so it's unclear how measurement will work.

The "no special path to citizenship" doesn't mean no citizenship, but rather just following the same cumbersome and inefficient system everyone else suffers through. My hunch is that this will not be a major stumbling block given other concessions, but I could be wrong. I'd need to see more about whether it's accurate to estimate that half of current undocumented immigrants wouldn't ever be eligible for citizenship.


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