Citizenship for undocumented youth serves the national interest
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With talk of a grand compromise coupling border security and some kind of solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, there is one issue which must be resolved in the favor of immigrant youth: a path to citizenship.

Reports that President Trump and the Democratic leadership agreed to a citizenship path has drawn fire from some on Capitol Hill who strongly oppose this notion, as it would, in their mind, encourage and reward illegal behavior.  But, as we know, these youth did not break the law on their own volition and should not be punished for an act for which they are not legally responsible.  Moreover, the bi-partisan DREAM Act is not open-ended, as it only applies to youth who have lived continuously in the United States for at least four years from the date of enactment.

As many have pointed out, these youth are practically Americans already, except on parchment. They are already contributing to the degree they are able, but want to become citizens and fully give their talents to our country. This is significant, as it means they are willing to work hard to become Americans—to live as full members of the only country they know.

Moreover, as they have already worked hard to win protection for themselves, there is little doubt that they would tackle an arduous, yet fair, path to citizenship with rigor.  Should we not welcome young persons who value U.S. citizenship so much that they would fight for it? 

A path to citizenship also would reward the attributes of ambition, independence and fearlessness that these youth have shown, traits we all-- particularly the president—admire.  If any group has pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, it is this one.  The nation should be hiring them, not firing them.

In addition, they are already imbedded in American society and part of the fabric of the nation.  According to a study by the Center for Migration Studies of New York (, fully 89 percent are employed, 91 percent speak English fluently, 85 percent have been here 10 years or longer, and 93 percent have at least graduated high school, if not college. They already are advanced as members of society; a thirteen year path to citizenship, contained in the DREAM Act, is probably too long for them to wait.

On the flip side, if Congress confers upon them legal status without a chance to earn a green card, we will be short-selling them and the nation. For the first time since the end of slavery, we would be legally condoning a permanent underclass of people, a totally un-American principle.

Such a policy would inhibit them from becoming leaders in their community and to fully participate in the democratic processes of our local, state and federal governments. As Congress and President Trump have witnessed, they are skilled advocates who could teach us all a few lessons in participatory democracy.

Many also have risked their lives in defense of our country. Denying them the full rights we all enjoy would relegate them to the back of the bus and only weaken our nation, as we would lose the benefit of their leadership, sacrifice and courage.

It also would deprive them of the full protection of our laws, as they could be subject to deportation if they make a minor misstep or if they are falsely accused of an offense. They deserve full due process protections given to all U.S. citizens, so that they do not have to fear the capriciousness of our current immigration enforcement system.

While the fate of these young people may be tied to some version of border security, it should not rest on the issue of citizenship.Both parties and the president should know that, more than any group, these future leaders should be welcome as citizens--to the benefit of all.

Appleby is the senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies of New York.