First we had the Senate Group of Eight, with its bipartisan, but limited, *"framework" for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. This proposal would make legalization for unauthorized immigrants conditional on increased immigration "enforcement", which we already have to the tune of $18 billion a year, based on the figures for 2012. It also omits granting any immigration benefits to spouses in same sex marriages, and would require all applicants for legalization of unauthorized immigrants to go to the back of a very long (at least 24 years, but possibly much longer) line in order to receive full legal residence and eventual US citizenship.
Then we had the president's slightly more immigrant-friendly proposal, which would not make legalization conditional on more enforcement (since he has already reached the logistical limit of deporting 400,000 people a year). The president's proposal would also provide green cards to spouses in same sex marriages. However, his proposal, like the Group of Eight's one, would also make unauthorized immigrants go to the "back of the line" in order to become full permanent residents.
Even the idea of a long delayed eventual permanent resident status for unauthorized immigrants seems to bother many Republicans who apparantly prefer the idea of keeping unauthorized immigrants in a permanent legal limbo, where they are allowed to work and cannot be deported, but at the same time could never become full members of American society, with guaranteed legal residence and, eventually, citizenship and the right to vote.
Now comes another bipartisan group supporting the idea of immigration reform which also has an ambiguous position on a "Pathway to Citizenship" for unauthorized immigrants. A task force led by Republicans Condoleezza Rice and Haley Barbour and Democrats Henry Cisneros and Ed Rendell, with other members to be announced. has issued a statement saying that it will also promote immigration reform, including worker visas, border security, internal enforcement and unauthorized immigrants, as reported in the February 11 Huffington Post.
Exactly where will this group stand on granting full legal status to unauthorized immigrants? We do not know. Condoleezza Rice, according to the Huffpost (Condoleezza Rice: Immigration Reform Group Will Discuss Path To Citizenship), made the following statement to reporters on Monday:
"I come with an open mind on this...I don't actually have an exact answer on this point because I think this is actually the hardest and most vexing issue. So I look forward to sharing views with other members of the task force,"
Why is an eventual "pathway to citizenship" for unauthorized immigrants such a "vexing" issue for Condoleezza Rice and other prominent Republicans, even those who, like her, are considered to be moderates? Is this because there is a certain "fundamental unfairness" involved in "rewarding" people who have broken the law by entering or remaining in the US without legal permission with a green card and eventual citizenship?
Certainly, one might argue this, but are leaders of Secretary Rice's party, who, in the view of many Americans, may have been allegedly responsible for pushing the US into an illegitimate war through deception, and engaging in illegal torture, in a good position to single out unauthorized immigrants as people who must pay the heavy price of being barred from full participation in American society for at least a generation because they also disregarded the law? Which offense is more serious?
How Interested are our politicians in either party in applying the full letter of the law to the big banks with their allegedly shoddy lending practices which almost caused a financial meltdown, to the big polluters who want to abolish the EPA, and many other alleged lawbreakers among the rich and powerful elite?
Is "fairness" the real issue in immigration reform? Or is the issue rather the fear that legalized immigrants would vote for the Democrats if given eventual citizenship rights?
What is motivating the Republicans who oppose the pathway to citizenship more? A sudden concern for the welfare of immigrants who are waiting for many years to come to the US though legal channels because immigration restrictionists have blocked attempts to make more legal visas available? Or is a party which depends in large part on older, more affluent white males for its very existence simply terrified by demographic change?
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.