Immigration Reform Must Recognize a Fact That Already Is: Full Citizenship and Not Mere Residency

House Republicans are labeling any immigration reform legislation that gives the some twelve million undocumented immigrants present in the United States even a tortuous and long path to citizenship as “Toxic” and “Extreme.”

They suggest “Residency” status which would not be citizenship at all but merely a legal environment where they would be allowed to remain in the United States and we could exploit them as they have all the responsibilities of citizens but few of the benefits.

A fact that already exists is that these people are this moment here with us in the United States. Most have been here with us working, obeying our laws, paying sales taxes, raising families, and being frightened should someone find out they entered the nation illegally. Others have and are serving in our military and of these a few have made the supreme sacrifice for a nation of which they are not a citizen.

“When you take [on] comprehensive, then we’re dealing with certain issues like full citizenship,” said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) Alabama. “Whatever else we disagree on, I think we can agree on that’s a more toxic and contentious issue—ramming through full amnesty.”

Bachus and the House Republicans make a false assumption here. No one is contemplating not having undocumented people now in the United States escape the law. Illegal entry into the United States is a civil violation and not criminal. That is the first disagreeable fact these people must face. Every reform proposal by Democrats involves some form of restitution on the part of undocumented immigrants for this violation of the law. In most cases it would involve admitting openly in court that you entered the nation illegally, having your guilty plea entered into the public record, and then paying the appropriate civil fine to show a respect for the rule of law. This is not Amnesty, merely forgiving a lawbreaker of their violation of the law without penalty.

Struggles for Justice believes as does the Obama Administration that undocumented Americans who entered the nation illegally should acknowledge that they broke the law and pay the civil fine associated with that violation. Then they should be given documentation and sent to the very back of the line of those awaiting citizenship.

Should the persons concerned be convicted criminals either here or in their homelands they would of course not be eligible for the reform path to citizenship at all. They most often would be deported. But millions more would now be able to achieve citizenship and to share the benefits as well as the work and dangers of maintaining and carrying forward our republican form of government as embodied in our Constitution and the nation state known as the United States of America.

Our Constitution rooted so much in the civil rights of equal treatment under the law cannot and must not create two or more classes of citizens, some with superior citizen rights and others without. It will not stand Constitutional muster. This idea of second class citizenship in the form of residency and another class with real citizenship violates the principal of our founding document that says triumphantly that the Creator has made us to be born free and equal.

Those who see this move of including these people as leading to the United States having wide open and uncontrolled borders are really hiding their fears of the other, the foreigner, the different—racial and ethnic bigotry.

A man said to the editor of Struggles for Justice just yesterday that “all the blacks in the inner city are just dope dealers and criminals.” He failed to grasp that many millions of African-Americans hold gainful employment, obey the laws, and are capable of family commitments of the first order. He and others like them assume that people of color or people who are both of color and undocumented must be criminals beyond the single civil violation of our immigration law. That they are not making a contribution to our economy and that their children must be resigned to second-class status.

How at odds this is with Twenty-first Century standards of human rights and dignity and our Constitutional assurances of equal treatment under the law. The House Republicans inability to take the obvious step and recognize that these millions of undocumented people present here for at least a few years and maybe a generation and now more are going to stay and be made citizens or work here under green card status shows us they refuse to recognize a fact that already is. Those who are dangerous and criminal will be sent home.

We can do this and heavily patrol and police all of our borders and maintain a tighter watch on visitors to the country in the interests of our national security and sovereign ability as a nation state to control our borders. We should do these things and assert that very sovereignty.

And the process to become a citizen must be streamlined. Not in terms of the Constitutional requirements met by so many of our ancestors, but in terms of the bureaucratic maze we’ve created so that even legal immigrants face long and daunting paths to citizenship that disrespects their human dignity and the burning desire for freedom and to be what we are: Americans.

No, it must be full immigration reform—the full Monty or Republicans must admit what they wish in their heart of hearts: that “those people” should be rounded up and thrown out entirely or exploited more mercilessly as second or third tier citizens or “resident” oppressed classes of victimhood.

They may be shocked to find that once documented and as citizens they will not just pay sales taxes on the sly but they will pay income taxes and property taxes enriching and swelling the revenue taken in by our government at all levels and spreading the tax burden more evenly.

And they may be shocked to find many talented and vital people to America’s future already among us; that their children are so very American and loyal to our nation and its cherished ideals. Let’s welcome them and get them out of the shadows and out of fear and into the light of full participation in our democratic experiment.

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