By Igor Volsky
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), a key player in the ongoing House negotiations to advance comprehensive immigration reform, has come out against providing a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, echoing a growing consensus among conservative members.
The position is in stark contrast to the framework put forward by a bipartisan group of Senators and President Obama — which would allow the unauthorized to earn citizenship.
“The people that came here illegally knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship,” Labrador said during an interview with NPR on Thursday morning. “If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty, I think we should normalize your status but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship.”
During Tuesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, multiple House Republicans panned citizenship as “extreme” and advanced a so-called “compromise” between inaction and permanent legalization: providing individuals and families who entered the country unlawfully with visas that allow them to live and work in the country but bar them from attaining citizenship.
“I think we should treat them with dignity, but we should also be fair to millions of people that are waiting in line, that are trying to do it the right way,” Labrador added.
Comprehensive immigration reform, however, can respect the immigrants who are currently awaiting their green cards while also advancing policies that are in the best economic and social interests of the nation as a whole.
First, the bipartisan immigration principles put forward by the Senate and President Obama envision a long path to citizenship that would require immigrants to learn English, pay taxes, and undergo numerous background checks. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) explains, immigrants who register with the government and receive probationary status “will not be allowed to apply for a green card for a substantial period of time,” waiting “in line behind everyone who has applied before them.”
They would truly have to earn the status and once they did, the economic benefits of naturalization for the nation will be far more substantial than any work visa Labrador will propose. A naturalized immigrant will earn “between 5.6 percent and 7.2 percent more within two years of becoming a citizen,” boosting consumer spending and overall economic growth.
Researchers “found that even if only half of those eligible to become citizens do so, it would add $21 billion to $45 billion to the U.S. economy over 10 years.”
Naturalized immigrants can help stimulate the economy, contribute to our communities and become part of the great American melting pot: equal to everyone around them.
As the Washington Post observes, “it makes no sense, nor is it morally right, for the United States to create a permanent underclass of workers, numbering in the millions, who have no prospect of citizenship even as we expect them to continue mowing our lawns, caring for our children, painting our houses and manning our processing plants — as many have done for a decade or more already.”
Fortunately, the American people agree.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday “found that 56 percent of voters think undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States and eventually apply for citizenship, while only 10 percent say they should be able to stay but not become citizens.”
Igor Volsky is deputy editor of ThinkProgress.org.