Fate of immigration reform in 2014: Citizenship vs. legal status

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    Immigration reform supporters rallied in July.

    Immigration reform supporters rallied in July near the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (Flickr/32BJ SEIU)

    With Congress likely to close out the year without approving any immigration reform legislation, Reps. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) are strategizing for next year’s push.

    The two congressmen said Wednesday they are convinced immigration reform legislation will pass in 2014 but only if both Democrats and Republicans come to the middle and reach a compromise on the issue.

    What could that compromise look like?

    They alluded during a press conference on Wednesday that the compromise could be in the shape of an immigration reform bill that would grant undocumented immigrants some sort of legal status instead of citizenship. They said such legislation would likely pick up enough votes to pass in the Republican-controlled House.

    Immigration reform bill with legal status, a tough sell

    Many Republicans say they would support giving undocumented immigrants a legal status but not citizenship. Meanwhile, most Democrats say they wouldn’t accept anything less than a path to citizenship.

    Image of Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

    Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. (VOXXI/Griselda Nevarez)

    Gutierrez acknowledged on Wednesday that convincing Democrats to agree with Republicans on a bill with no path to citizenship will not be easy. But he insisted that backing such bill is inevitable given that it is Republicans — not Democrats — who control the House. He added that Democrats had a chance to pass immigration reform legislation when they had control of both chambers of Congress, but they let the opportunity go.

    “Republicans hold the majority … so you have to agree to negotiate with them,” he told House Democrats. “They will incorporate in the legislation a point of view that perhaps is not of your liking. But if it’s not of your liking, you should have [approved immigration reform legislation] when your party had the majority in 2009 and 2010.”

    “I am going to work with them because at the end of the day, if we put politics aside, we can accomplish this,” he continued.

    Gutierrez also asserted that the fight for immigration reform would not end with the approval of a bill with a path to legal status. He said he would continue working toward approving legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to become U.S citizens.

    Image of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

    Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. (Photo by Diaz-Balart’s office)

    Meanwhile, Diaz-Balart spoke on Wednesday about the “magic formula” that will garner enough votes to pass immigration reform next year.

    “The reality is that if we’re going to get this done, it’s going to have to be a legislation that gives confidence to the folks in the House that the United States is going to secure it’s borders but also needs to deal with the millions of folks who are here undocumented,” Diaz-Balart said.

    “Without doing both of those things, I think that you’re not solving the problem,” he added.

    The Florida Republican also warned there will be people from the far right and far left who will disagree, but he insisted: “If we base it on what they want — the extreme right and the extreme left — we’ll never be able to achieve it.”

    Mixed reactions from immigration reform supporters

    The idea of pushing for immigration reform legislation with no path to citizenship is getting mixed reactions from advocates.

    Maria Cruz Ramirez, an undocumented mother of three Dreamers, said she ultimately wants to become a U.S. citizen. However, she also supports a bill that would allow her to gain a legal status, saying a path to legal status would be better than walking away empty-handed.

    Maria Cruz Ramirez met with Gutierrez last week to discuss immigration reform. (VOXXI/Griselda Nevarez)

    Maria Cruz Ramirez met with Rep. Gutierrez last week. (VOXXI/Griselda Nevarez)

    Ramirez is a native of Mexico and has been living in Arizona for the last 12 years. She was among a group of families who traveled to Washington, D.C., last week and met with Gutierrez to discuss the future of immigration reform.

    “I asked him for his support so that all of us — as undocumented immigrants — can have some sort of status here that will allow us to work, that will protect us from deportation and will allow us to go visit our families,” Ramirez told VOXXI.

    Meanwhile, Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice for the Center for Community Change, said most undocumented immigrants she has talked to say they “want to come out of the shadows” and be put on a path to citizenship.

    “They don’t want to be part of a group of second-class citizens,” she said of undocumented immigrants. “They came to this country aspiring to become U.S. citizens.”

    Matos is among the advocates who say they are not willing to settle for anything less than a path to citizenship. Her organization is one of dozens that are part of the Alliance for Citizenship, a coalition of groups pushing for immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

    “Our position has not changed, and it will not change,” she told VOXXI.

    Matos also argued that Republicans and Democrats can reach a compromise without giving up a path to citizenship. She pointed to the Senate’s immigration reform bill as an example of that. That bill includes provisions to strengthen border security and allow undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

    “If the Senate did it, there is no reason why the House can’t do it,” she said.

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