Esther Cepeda: A path to immigration compromise?
CHICAGO -- Immigration reform is not dead—it’s just waiting for lawmakers to drop the politics, strike a compromise and get it done.
The Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project seems to back up the idea that a pathway for achieving citizenship is not a make-or-break provision to getting an immigration reform deal. Insisting on citizenship only serves to keep 11.7 million people in a state of terrifying limbo for the sake of appeasing those who care only about scoring points in a future election.
Based on two surveys fielded multilingually in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Pew found that 55 percent of Hispanics say that being able to live and work in the United States legally without the threat of deportation is more important for unauthorized immigrants than a pathway to citizenship, which garnered 35 percent support.
Asian-Americans held similar views, though to a lesser degree, with 49 percent favoring relief from deportation over a pathway to citizenship (44 percent).
Pew does not break out its estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population beyond counting those of Mexican descent, who make up 59 percent of those here without proper credentials. But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated that in 2011, unauthorized immigrants hailing from the largest Latin American and Asian countries represented approximately 85 percent of all immigrants without legal permission.
This tells me that a majority of the ethnic and racial groups with skin in the immigration reform game would be willing to compromise on a package that provided the legal status, working rights and in-state college tuition preferences without including an expedited or “special” pathway to citizenship.
Such a plan would not—as the politically motivated vote-counters who wrap themselves in the American flag to decry a “permanent underclass” claim—limit the ability of any legal permanent resident to work toward the American Dream of living here peacefully, sending their children to public schools, buying a house or starting a business.
Legal permanent residents have the right to unrestricted equal employment—even in many federal jobs—due process and, in some jurisdictions, permission to vote and hold public office at the local level. They just can’t vote in federal elections or hold federal elective office.
And on the topic of civic participation, one need only look at the largely successful national campaigns by “undocumented and unafraid” immigrants to know that voting isn’t the only way to participate, vigorously, in America’s political process.
Legal permanent residents can persuade others to vote for any office, canvass, make campaign contributions, and volunteer and raise money for candidates and political organizations. They can also contact their officials and the media, and they can protest, petition and boycott.
Mexicans know this—they represent the largest percentage of legal permanent residents (25.4 percent) and the largest percentage of those who are eligible to naturalize (31.1 percent), according to DHS. But their rate of naturalization—36 percent—is only half that of legal immigrants from all other countries combined, according to an early 2013 analysis by Pew.
The immigrant advocacy groups, politicians and other parties who are invested in immigration reform solely for the purpose of creating a perpetual Democrat-leaning voting bloc are both cynical and misguided.
They have been playing high-stakes poker by pushing citizenship-only plans on Republicans who fundamentally disagree with bestowing the cherished right of citizenship on people who broke laws in order to come to this country—and then demonizing such lawmakers for not compromising.
And, so far, these activists and their supporters have been winning. Poll after poll shows that immigrants and other minorities tend to look upon Republicans as people who are intolerant of them based solely on country of origin, skin color or native language.
The losers? They’re the car washers, dishwashers, busboys, maids, nannies, physical laborers and other immigrants who aren’t reading political blogs all day and don’t understand that their protectors are setting them up for an all-or-nothing political confrontation that has so far yielded nothing.
Compromise already! Ditch the politics, legalize the 11.7 million who aren’t a threat to their communities or national security, secure the border and let’s move on.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.