Putting the nation’s 11 million aspiring citizens on a path to citizenship is not—as many Republican House lawmakers have characterized—the “extreme” option for immigration reform, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro told a House Judiciary Committee hearing today.
Putting them on a path to citizenship, that’s the best option.
Castro was one of several witnesses during the first congressional hearing on immigration reform since President Obama and a group of Democratic and Republican senators have all called for comprehensive changes in the nation’s broken immigration system.
But as reflected by the makeup of the Republicans on the committee—more than half of whom were part of an extreme anti-immigrant House caucus—and the witnesses that dominated the panels, the idea for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are currently undocumented was not met with enthusiasm.
In fact, when Castro was asked about proposals to grant immigrants so-called “legal” status allowing them to work and pay taxes but blocking them from ever gaining citizenship, he told the panel:
It would be unprecedented that we create a class of folks who are stuck in some kind of limbo that they are not allowed to become citizens but right up to that line.
Also, several committee members suggested a piecemeal approach to immigration rather than the comprehensive reform backed by the AFL-CIO, Obama, a group of bipartisan U.S. senators and immigrant, civil rights, faith and other groups. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said:
Rep Conyers says piecemeal reform will not do. "We've got to approach this from a more holistic way." #hjc— RI4A (@RI4A) February 5, 2013
He added, “There is no more critical economic and social justice issue facing our nation today than fixing our broken immigration system.”
Many of the 11 million immigrants who would be impacted by immigration reform are young people—brought to this country by their parents—who learned English, attended schools, obeyed the law and, like DREAMer Benita Veliz, have achieved remarkable success. A high school valedictorian, National Merit Scholar and college graduate by the time she was 20. Castro said:
By any measure, Benita is an American success story. But under the current immigration law she is in limbo. America is her home in very sense of the word, except under this broken immigration system.
Ahhhh they are talking about my friend Benita! #dreamers— Gaby Pacheco (@GabyPacheco1) February 5, 2013
Despite several hostile questions and some demonization of immigrants by some of the committee Republicans, Conyers said that a combination of growing public sentiment and the support of the Obama administration and a core of bipartisan lawmakers:
I think that we can pass reform with a path to citizenship that can pass muster.