Immigration Reform 2014: Are Democrats Ready To Compromise On Citizenship?

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Some Democrats are signaling that they could support an immigration-reform plan from House Republicans that could end the Obama administration’s record number of deportations. The plan would give legal status, if not outright citizenship, to millions of immigrants who entered the country illegally. But first they want to see the substance of the legislation.

In a press call hosted by the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice on Friday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the set of broad principles released by House leadership on Thursday is an “excellent starting point.” In the one-page document, Republican lawmakers stated they will not support a “special path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. Given that clear but broad standard, Gutierrez now believes a pathway to citizenship can eventually be achieved. He just wants to see more details.

“I have been saying for a couple of months -- [with] not too much happiness from many people -- that if your standard is citizenship for everyone immediately or no immigration reform at all, you are going to get no immigration reform at all,” the Illinois congressman said. “I think that this is a step in the right direction. ... We can legalize all and end these deportations.”

Legalization alone is not cutting it for some labor groups that support the Democratic all-inclusive immigration bill passed last year -- whoch offers a road map to citizenship.

The AFL-CIO has already dismissed the Republican principles as “a flimsy document” and said House Republicans should be condemned for proposing to create a permanent class of non-citizens. The consensus, Gutierrez pointed out, is that there should be a stay on deportations. As for citizenship, he added, the problem is how to make it happen.

“Nobody is saying we have given up on citizenship,” he added. “I am for citizenship, yesterday, today and I will be for it tomorrow. ... It’s kind of what are the mechanisms to get there.” According to Gutierrrez, part of the problem is that people are under the false belief that the Senate bill provides citizenship for all. There are an estimated 11 million people in the country without legal papers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected last year that if the Senate bill became law, some 8 million people could get legal status.

“This notion of citizenship for all or nothing, that doesn’t exist in the Senate bill,” Gutierrez said. “Do I celebrate that? Absolutely not. ... But we have to understand something ... There is a human tragedy. There are 2 million deportations, ladies and gentlemen, under this administration and they continue at a rapid pace. We need to bring a sense of justice and fairness and put their concerns ahead of any other concerns we have.”

Republicans are themselves facing a difficult task. Also present on the call was Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who said the majority of his caucus believes work should be done on reform. However, he said that there is a trust gap between Republicans and President Barack Obama. Still, “I’m confident we can get it done this year,” Diaz-Balart said.

As for how that could be accomplished, Diaz-Balart just said the plan is to “have border and interior security in a way that is as airtight as possible -- even to the point of forcing this or any future administration to have to enforce border and interior security even if they don’t want.”

“We have to make the policy so airtight on border and interior security that frankly people will really believe that this is going to happen this time,” Diaz-Balart said. “If we get there I think a lot of the reluctance is going to melt away. If we cannot assure -- not through words, not through promises -- through legislative language that the border and interior security is going to be as airtight, as real, as enforceable regardless of what any administration may or may not want to do, if we can’t do that then frankly we are in deep trouble. But I think we are very close to having a very, very airtight piece of legislation to deal with that and to do just that.”

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