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US plots path to citizenship for illegal immigrants

March 21, 2013


The 11 million undocumented workers residing in the United States – nearly 60 percent of whom are Mexican – could gain citizenship within 13 years under reforms to immigration law being prepared by a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators.

The Senate timeline for a path to citizenship, which has yet to be finalized, would match the overall wait proposed by the Barack Obama administration, but would be structured differently.

Obama’s proposal would have granted legal status to undocumented residents within eight years, with full citizenship possible another five years later. In a compromise agreement, the four Republican members working on the plan are set to extend the wait for a a green card to ten years, but the Democrats will bring down the subsequent wait for naturalization to just three years.

The undocumented immigrants would have to pay a hefty fine, file back taxes and learn English before becoming eligible for green cards and citizenship, while the ten-year wait for a green card would ensure that the current backlog of over four million people who have legally applied for visas would be processed first.

The bill, which will serve as a template for comprehensive immigration reform, is expected to be released by mid-April and could be passed by the Senate in late spring or summer. However, it could prove difficult for the Obama administration to push the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which also has a bipartisan group working on a plan for immigration reform.

Immigration remains a polemic issue in the United States, with Republicans traditionally opposed to anything that resembles “amnesty” for undocumented workers, but there are several reasons why the GOP might soften its stance on the issue.

Firstly, illegal immigration is no longer as big a problem as it was in the past; nor is it as grave a burden on U.S. society as many prominent conservative commentators make out. Illegal immigration dropped to a 40-year low in 2011 – largely due to the scarcity of jobs north of the border – and net migration from Mexico to the United States has fallen to zero for the first time since 1939. Although this alone is almost certainly not enough to sway the minds of conservative Republicans, the impact of anti-immigrant policies at the polls may force them to reconsider their stance.

The GOP can no longer afford to alienate Latino voters, with the United States now home to over 50 million Latinos, the majority of whom are Mexican. These Latinos now represent the country’s biggest ethnic minority and its fastest growing demographic group. They already make up 10 percent of the electorate and that figure is set to have grown by the time of the next election.

The Republicans were effectively punished for their anti-immigrant stance in last year’s presidential election, with 71 percent of Latino voters supporting Obama and playing a decisive role in several swing states.

Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio may be the Republicans’ best shot of winning the 2016 election and when it comes to the delicate issue of immigration he will be wary to keep Latino voters onside, as his party attempts to shed its white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant image.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2013 23:24

    Remember however, what would really help the US and Mexico in particular is a temporary entry program (worker program). This however is very difficult to do based on the opposition of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which is a hard line democratic base. You make it sound as if immigration reform is hung up due to the Republicans… partially yes, but certainly not entirely true.

    • March 22, 2013 20:10

      Very true. There are a lot of moving parts. With work visas, the business-employer and labor-employee sides need to find a common ground.

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