I have much in common with my home state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Like Cruz, I was not born in the U.S.
Like Cruz, I graduated as valedictorian of my high school class and then attended college at an Ivy League university. As a law student, the senator undoubtedly walked the same Harvard Yard that I cross as a rising undergraduate senior. In fact, like Cruz, I hope to also embark on a career in public service.
Also like Cruz, I am in Washington, D.C., this week at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup of immigration reform legislation. Why am I choosing to miss Harvard’s senior week and celebrating my friends’ graduations in favor of a bill markup? Because of a major, troubling difference I have with Cruz.
Cruz was the sponsor of an amendment in the Judiciary Committee markup of the immigration bill that would have gutted the path to citizenship provision and blocked anyone who has ever been undocumented from ever becoming a U.S. citizen — including me. While his amendment failed by a 13-5 vote margin today, the committee markup is just the first legislative step for this bill. And because Cruz will have future chances to attempt to strip the path to citizenship provision, I hope to raise my voice and tell my story as a reminder of why citizenship matters.
There’s a reason that bipartisan groups in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have included eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants in their agreements — this is the heart of any immigration reform solution.
A path to citizenship is popular, receiving the backing of two-thirds of the nation in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. This provision is also essential: if we are to create modern immigration system, we need to acknowledge the presence of millions of immigrants without valid papers who go to school with our children and already contribute to our communities. No immigration reform bill that blocks, avoids or dismisses the undocumented will deliver the desired long-term fix of U.S. immigration system. Like Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said today, “reform won’t work without citizenship.”
So, if not citizenship, what is the alternative that Cruz proposes? What is his plan for me — for us — if he will continue to fight against a path to citizenship? Should I live in a permanent underclass? Should I join the underground, off-the-books economy? Should I skip out on my final year at Harvard, saying, “what’s the point?”
The fate of the immigration bill will help determine the opportunities available to thousands upon thousands of us who are Americans in all but our paperwork. This includes my fellow DREAMers as well our parents, whose sacrifices in pursuit of a better life for us mirror the American immigrant experience going back generations.
When Cruz spoke on behalf of his failed amendment today, he offered excuses and talking points. But he never once explained to me why his own American immigrant success story should not be a model for my life.
Balderas is a Harvard University student, scheduled to graduate in 2014.