Room for Compromise in Immigration Debate

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by Emma Brandon, Vice President

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving,
hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” proclaimed President
Obama in his second inaugural address. This proclamation kicked off a firestorm of
activity in the White House and on Capitol Hill to find the better way that the President
had demanded.

The White House came out with a plan that included strengthening borders,
cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and a path to
citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country. The path to citizenship
element of the President’s proposal is by far the most controversial and misunderstood
element. Obama’s plan would require that immigrants pass security and criminal
background checks; pay taxes; learn English; and “go to the back of the line” for green
cards.

A bi-partisan group of Senators quickly formed a “Gang of 8” in response
to the President’s proposal and wrote their own immigration reform proposal. The
“Gang of 8”’s proposal includes strikingly similar plans to the President’s proposal
on strengthening borders and the hiring of illegal immigrants but differs greatly on its
prioritization and ideas on a path to citizenship. The plan contains a provision for a
similar path to citizenship only after it can be proven that the borders are secure. The
“Gang of 8” also proposes the creation of a commission of Governors, Mayors, and
Attorneys General from states that are along the United States’ Southwestern border to
determine whether this condition has been met and whether it is now time to establish a
path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are currently in the country.

The major sticking point for Republicans in the House of Representatives
appears to also be the President’s proposal of a path to citizenship. The current House
Republican position is not clearly defined and is evolving as hearings on the subject
in House Judiciary Committee that began on Tuesday, February 5 continue. Many
leading Republicans such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
have wondered aloud whether there is a middle ground between a path to citizenship and
mass deportation. Goodlatte has suggested that the answer may be legal residency for
current undocumented immigrants but there has been no consensus House Republican
plan on the issue. This relatively moderate position demonstrates that there is room for
compromise although the fact that a recent AP-Gfk poll has shown that more than 6 in
10 Americans support a path to citizenship may be a sign that the President need not
compromise on this issue.

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