Lobbyists Want Citizenship for Aliens but Aliens Would Settle (Gladly) for Less

Published on February 8th, 2013

I watched Tuesday’s House Judiciary hearing on immigration, no small feat since the session took more than eight hours. You can see it on C-SPAN here.

As I watched, I wished I had been one of those called to testify. Unlike anyone on the panel, I have more than 25 years of direct, hands-on experience with illegal immigrants which I acquired as a California public school English-as-a-second-language instructor.

My class had an open enrollment policy that allowed students to come and go as their schedules allowed. Some stayed only a day or two. I can’t say exactly how many passed through my classes. Since I taught several sections each day, I’ll estimate the total in the tens of thousands.

My experience gave me personal insight into what motivates illegal immigrants and, from my individual conversations with them, to learn what they hoped for during their life in the United States.

Their expectations were lower than the demands their advocates are making on Capitol Hill. The burning question during the hearings and the one that will be the focus in the months ahead is whether the existing 11 million illegal immigrants should be given immediate citizenship, something short of that, like legal residency, or allow the status quo to continue even though no one mentions that option out loud.

Lobbyists, especially those that represent ethnic identity organizations, demand citizenship. Congressional Democrats and some Republicans also insist that citizenship be an essential component in any immigration deal. In his testimony, San Antonio’s Democratic Mayor Julian Castro said that citizenship must be on the table. And U.S. Representative Darrell Issa agreed that offering citizenship is “…the inherently American thing to do.”  Read the CAPS home page story about Issa here.

But, if those most directly affected—the illegal immigrants themselves— were asked, they would say that if they were granted legal residency (in other words, no possibility of deportation) and work authorization, they’d be satisfied.

Based on a quarter of a century of daily interactions with legal and illegal immigrants, including the ones I taught during the attempted amnesties in 2006 and 2007, fewer than ten students asked me what steps should be taken to become a citizen.

Several possibilities present themselves as reasons for their limited interest. My students may have asked someone else. Aliens may have known that adjusting their status is difficult, if not impossible. But my overwhelming impression is that citizenship is, if not unimportant to them, much less crucial to the individual immigrants than legal permanent residency.

I’ll add that I am not in favor of permanent residency for aliens with or without eventual citizenship. Instead I favor true immigration reform that would eliminate chain migration, the Diversity Visa and birthright citizens while mandating job site E-Verify.

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