Tabitha Frazier: We need immigration reform that provides path to citizenship


A bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the U.S. Senate almost eight month ago.  An identical bill, H.R. 15, has been sitting in the House of Representatives for more than four months and has 195 co-sponsors — a sponsor from every state in the Union.

Despite widespread support in the House, Speaker John Boehner is refusing to allow the measure to be heard.

Mid-term elections are around the corner, and Republicans realize that they have been no friends to Hispanic voters.  They now realize that some form of immigration reform is inevitable.

However, rather than adopt a meaningful, bipartisan path to citizenship for undocumented workers, House Republicans now offer misleading half-measures.  Boehner is once again capitulating to the extreme wing of the Republican Party by advocating a pathway to what they call “legal status,” rather than citizenship.  The difference in the two measures is significant.

The bipartisan immigration bills require applicants to pay fines and back taxes, go through criminal background checks and maintain employment. The bills wouldn’t permit legalized immigrants to apply for permanent status until the existing backlogs are clear.

If those requirements are met, these laws would provide a pathway to citizenship, but it would not be an easy one.  The bipartisan measure would still require as much as 15 years before citizenship could be achieved, but at least the path would be available.

Boehner and some House Republicans advocate for much less meaningful reforms that will do little to fix the problems that have plagued the U.S. immigration system for decades.

The most they will promise to hard-working immigrants is that they might achieve what they call a “middle ground” — the chance to possibly avoid deportation by achieving “legal status.”  This option would leave undocumented immigrants in a permanent sub-citizen status.  Creating a permanent underclass of U.S. residents is just wrong.  Moreover, even the path to legal status may be illusory.

Immigration reform advocates don’t have specific figures available yet, but not all 11 million undocumented workers would be eligible for “legal status.”  Additionally, current immigration laws make it difficult or impossible for immigrants without proper status to become legal without first leaving the U.S.

This is also known as “self-deportation” and is something that has been advocated by many in the Republican Party, including Mitt Romney during his presidential run.  Self-deported workers take the risk that they will not be allowed back into the country legally.  This sort of path to an undefined legal status is less than a clear road.

While both “legal status” and citizenship provide economic benefits, the rate and amount of economic growth varies greatly. Documented workers and naturalized citizens are both more productive, and earn significantly more, than undocumented workers.  The resulting productivity and wage gains from legal status or citizenship ripple through our economy because immigrants are not just workers — they are also consumers and taxpayers.

However, providing a pathway to citizenship, rather than just legal status, is by far the more economically advantageous thing to do. The rate for this economic growth varies greatly between individuals offered a pathway to citizenship and those only allowed legal permanent residence, according to the Center for American Progress.

If citizenship were offered to immigrants instead of just legal status, the 10-year cumulative increase in the economy would be $1.1 trillion, and the annual increases in the incomes of all Americans would be $618 billion. It is estimated that these individuals’ income would increase 25.1 percent over 10 years and they would earn $515 billion to add to the economy as consumers.

This productivity would mean an additional $144 billion in tax revenue: $91 billion to the federal government and an estimated $53 billion to state and local governments.  Providing a pathway to citizenship is the right thing to do economically as well as morally.

Boehner and members of the Tea Party caucus of the House Republican Party released their proposals last week and what is obvious is that the half-measures they promote would not provide a pathway to citizenship.  They allow for undocumented workers to achieve legal status, and continue to allow them to pay taxes, but they would never get the right to vote.

This falls right in line with the Republican voter suppression efforts in states across the U.S.

When people can vote, they have skin in the game. They pay attention to what’s happening in the country and thus are more productive citizens.

Didn’t we learn in grade school that taxation without representation was unfair?  Didn’t we learn that the right to vote is an integral part of our democracy?

Urge your House representative to support meaningful immigration reform that provides an achievable pathway to citizenship and demand that bipartisan H.R. 15 is taken for a vote.

Tabitha Frazier is Second Vice President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida and President of the Leon County Democratic Hispanic Caucus. She lives in Tallahassee.

Guest Author

One comment

  • Keith

    February 27, 2014 at 10:08 am

    While I agree with some of what was said and while I am definitely in favor of most forms of legal immigration, we must remember that undocumented immigrants willingly disobeyed the laws of this country. It is exceedingly difficult for many qualified individuals to immigrate to this country legally – obeying the rules – by the book. And many of these worthy people are rejected. Why should these good people be discriminated against, while those who willingly disregard our laws get a free pass. This is bad precedent. Although we need some sort of immigration reform, blanket forgiveness, I fear, will only spawn more disregard for the laws of this country (every country has the right to control its borders) and makes a travesty of those choosing to obey the laws of this nation.

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