THE PATH TO CITIZENSHIP
(published in the New York Times on Friday, March 2, 2007)
On Wednesday, Congress took its first crack at immigration reform since the great nothing of 2006. The Senate Judiciary Committee invited Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to testify on the issue. With a new Congress and a new comprehensive immigration bill expected to be introduced in the Senate within days, the hearing could have been the first spark of a rejuvenated campaign by an alliance of Congressional Democrats, moderate Republicans and the Bush administration to finally solve a problem that has festered for too long.
It wasn’t. That’s because both Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Gutierrez slunk away from a central pillar of comprehensive reform: a path to citizenship that would give illegal immigrants — the ones who wait and prove they deserve it — the chance to participate fully and proudly in the life of this country.
Polls show that most Americans would let illegal immigrants get right with the law and become Americans, too, if they have clean records, learn English and pay back taxes and fines. Weighed against keeping the shadowy status quo or deporting 12 million people, a citizenship path strikes them as a proper blend of justice and common sense. Last year’s stalled Senate bill took this approach, and it will surely be central to any new legislation.
But the idea sticks in the craws of the members of a vocal, mostly Republican faction that wants every door to opportunity for illegal immigrants shut and locked, except the one marked “guest workers.” Those they would keep because they don’t mind having an underclass of docile, ill-paid foreigners who do America’s dirtiest jobs and then go home.
There is a place for some temporary workers in the American economy. But such programs are highly prone to abuse and are not a solution for the vast numbers of illegal immigrants already here.
Mr. Gutierrez and Mr. Chertoff enthusiastically talked up guest-worker programs on Wednesday, but pointedly left citizenship off the table. They could have been talking tactically, working at President Bush’s behest to soothe the passions of skeptical Republicans. But there must be a limit to the accommodations given to anti-amnesty ideologues. If Mr. Bush has the stomach to fight for the real reform he says he wants, he is hiding it well.
Mr. Bush said nothing about a path to citizenship in his State of the Union address in January. If he is too weakened to stand up for comprehensive reform, then Democrats and Republicans in Congress need to unite and do it for him.
To read the editorial on the NY Times website, click HERE.