President Obama just detailed his Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) plan one one day after a bipartisan proposal was revealed by a “Gang of Eight” senators (Marco Rubio, R-FL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; John McCain, R-AZ; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Dick Durbin, D-IL; Bob Menendez, D-N.J.; Chuck
Schumer, D-NY; Michael Bennet, D-CO). Both plans are similar and focus on four key elements of reform: border enforcement, a national employment verification system and penalties for employers who hire unauthorized workers, an earned pathway to citizenship for the eleven million unauthorized migrants presently in the country (the majority of whom are Latino), and an overhaul of the ways in which visas are allocated. The sticking point for CIR will be how rapidly, and to what extent, nauthorized migrants are granted American citizenship.
Although republicans are eager to appeal to Latinos who overwhelmingly voted for Obama in the last election, many republicans are reluctant to agree to a rapid citizenship pathway, what they derisively call an amnesty, because they mistakenly think it rewards unauthorized migrants and encourages more
unauthorized migration. This is why the Gang of 8’s plan has placed contingencies on their proposed citizenship pathway that include proving that the border is secure and that visitors can no longer overstay visas. These contingencies do not bode well for America’s future, which is inexorably tied
to how rapidly Latinos achieve social mobility and enter the American middle class. What are the measures by which you prove that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure? Recent research demonstrates that levels of unauthorized migration are at their lowest levels in nearly a quarter of a century. In fact, unauthorized migration is presently at net zero.
In just a few months Latinos will surpass whites to comprise a majority of California’s population, and their national population is expected to double in just a few decades, from 17% in 2012 to 30% in 2040. Citizenship is a critical mechanism that will allow today’s immigrants, and tomorrow’s native-born citizens, to fully integrate into American society. My research on the Mexican American middle class shows that families with parents who gain legal status and citizenship early on in their children’s life forge a more rapid trajectory into the middle class. These parents exit exploitative low-wage jobs and earn higher incomes, the benefits of which stream down to children. Parents have more money to
invest in their children and save for college and they move to better neighborhoods. If republicans want to charm the Latino population, and do what is best for America’s future, they must support a rapid citizenship pathway that does not include contingencies that are impossible to meet.
For more on the Mexican Middle Class, see Jody's new book, Barrios to Burbs" The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class, and a Q&A she did recently with KPPC's "Multi-American."