Comprehensive immigration reform could go down as one of the most overlooked, overdue priorities Washington has ever let slide.
Over the past few decades, we’ve had major legislation — sometimes more than once — on healthcare, national security, funding for higher education, pay equity for women and many of the other key issues for our country. On immigration, we’ve seen a lot of talk and a lot of money thrown at security and enforcement efforts that have done as much harm as good.
That’s why, after so many years, it’s good to see both parties taking this seriously and being more interested in agreeing than disagreeing. The last several years have been more about S.B. 1070 and its offspring than about the real solutions we need. That’s changing for the better, and we should seize the opportunity.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of obstacles in the road, and some of them are determined to stay right where they are. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was asked recently on National Public Radio whether he supports a path to full citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country.
“I do not,” he said.
Despite all we’ve heard about Republicans’ need to get with the times, to stand up to the extremist wing of their party and to replace Gingrich-era rhetoric with serious policy ideas, the Republican head of the committee overseeing this issue will not budge. This is a route not only to a failed legislative effort but to permanent political oblivion in the long run. Dead-ender enforcement-only demands are signs of weakness and intellectual exhaustion, not a meaningful bargaining position.
I don’t believe this is part of a clever 12-dimensional chess game in which different Republicans stake out different positions to satisfy various constituencies until we reach a deal. I think he means exactly what he says. My colleague simply sees no reason to solve this.
Here’s the problem with that. If there is no way for 11 million people who are already here — people who have families and jobs and pay taxes — to clarify their legal status, then we can’t really say we’ve reformed anything. Plenty of those 11 million people are students who came here with their parents as infants. Through no fault of their own, they find themselves without a place to call home.
It’s difficult for many of my Republican colleagues to put themselves in the shoes of one of these students, but I’d ask them to try for a moment. Let’s say your parents brought you here from Ireland as a baby, and they overstayed their visas. You have no idea that every day you spend here is a national political issue.
You’ve studied hard, and when it’s time for you to go to college you realize you don’t have the right paperwork. Well, my conservative friends will tell you to drop what you’re doing, go back to Ireland and wait several years — maybe a decade — for the bureaucracy and the politicking to be sorted out, and then consider applying for temporary status.
Is this a realistic proposition? Is that the kind of country we are? Is this the future we want for ourselves — to banish people who have worked hard, lived successful and productive lives, contributed to this nation’s economy and haven’t committed any crimes?
We should help anyone with a clean record who is willing to study the history of this country, understand their own duties as a citizen and learn English. There are legitimate concerns about how we really address this. We’re not talking about any blanket forgiveness plan — serious immigration reform is going to be thorough, and it’s going to have strings attached. The president has been admirably clear and strong throughout this process on the need for a solution that works, not just one that ticks the political box.
Even with a reform law, they’re going to have to wait years for full citizenship. This is not a snap-your-fingers process.
I think this is going to happen this year. My Republican colleagues don’t have a choice. This issue is too big and has been ignored for too long, and whatever they might want to tell themselves, it’s not just immigrants who care about it. “Sorry about your childhood, but don’t come back until we lose a few more elections” is not a serious policy. We can do a lot better.
Grijalva is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.