Centrist Dems stress 'reasonable' pathway to citizenship for immigrants

Centrist Democrats warned this week that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants must be "reasonable" to be effective.

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Leaders of the New Democrat Coalition, now more than 50 strong, declined to put a precise number to their timeline, but cautioned against the adoption of unattainable measures meant to deny citizenship in the name of providing it.

"Any pathway that is too onerous, too long, too burdensome really isn't a pathway at all," Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), chairman of the New Democrats, said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "It's more of an excuse in order to block a reasonable path forward to citizenship."

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), head of the group's immigration task force, echoed that message.

"There obviously will be some disagreement about what is 'reasonable,'" Polis said, "but clearly it's not reasonable for somebody to wait their entire working life or … their entire prime."

The centrist coalition is trying to position itself as a player in the debate over how to overhaul the nation's immigration system, an issue Kind called "one of the greatest impediments to economic growth and job creation" facing the country today.

Among the key sticking points in that contentious debate has been how – or whether – to allow the estimated 11 million people living in country illegally to remain and eventually become citizens.

Senate negotiators are reportedly eying a timeline of 10 years before a new pathway to citizenship would open up – and only then if unspecified border security targets have been met and an E-Verify system is fully up and running.

Meanwhile, some key House negotiators – notably Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) – oppose a new road to citizenship for undocumented residents, proposing instead that those people get in line behind others waiting to enter the country via legal channels – a process advocates warn could take upwards of two decades.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another member of the New Democrats, said current statute grants citizenship to eligible immigrants within a span of between seven and 15 years.

"So a 10-year line to citizenship is very consistent with current immigration law," she said.

The New Democrats on Thursday unveiled a set of principles they hope will guide the debate, including the stipulation that undocumented residents "have the opportunity to work toward permanent residency with a path to earned citizenship within a reasonable timeframe."

As part of earning the right of citizenship, the Democrats say, illegal immigrants should have to register with the federal government, learn English, pass a criminal background check and pay any back taxes they owe.

"Hopefully, reasonable minds will be able to come together in a bipartisan fashion and truly put something in place that's a pathway on earned citizenship," Kind said, "and not an excuse just to delay and prevent it from happening."