Ahead of a Wednesday meeting of House Republicans to discuss various options on immigration reform, hundreds of DREAMers—young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children—held their own version of a citizenship ceremony and rally yesterday to push for legislation that will provide a roadmap to citizenship for not only themselves but for millions of other undocumented immigrants as well. “We have come today to claim our citizenship,” said United We Dream’s Lorella Praeli. “2013 is not the time for separate but equal. It is not the time for legalization for some and citizenship for others.”
However, it seems some members at the House meeting didn’t get the message. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other members suggested there is a growing consensus on permitting DREAMers to achieve citizenship, like the DREAM Act, but not for other groups of undocumented immigrants. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) also referred to citizenship for immigrants who came here as children as “a good place to start.” And in late June, Cantor said, “Certainly we ought to have the compassion to say these kids shouldn’t be kids without a country, and we ought to allow them the life that they deserve.”
But at the United We Dream rally, DREAMers made it clear that they do not want a bill that only creates a path to citizenship for those who entered the U.S. when they were young. Instead, many speakers emphasized that a path to earned citizenship should include their parents—who they called the “original DREAMers”—and siblings. Evelyn Rivera, who is originally from Colombia but grew up in Orlando, Florida, spoke about reuniting with her mother, who was deported six years ago, at the U.S.-Mexico border and only being able to hug her through a 16-foot fence. “I believe in an America where I don’t have to choose between my home or my family,” Rivera said.
A bill that creates a roadmap to earned citizenship for a small group of immigrants is not only unfair but would perpetuate the current problems. As researcher Lisa Roney explains, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) excluded family members who did not qualify on their own merits, reducing participation in the legalization program. Later legislative and administrative efforts gave provisional legal status and work authorization to many family members, but Roney writes, “Doing so originally would have been far more efficient and humanitarian.” And IRCA created mixed status families when a few family members could earn citizenship while their relatives remained undocumented, leaving families in fear of being separated by deportation.
Setting the humanitarian issues aside, limiting legalization restricts the enormous economic boon a full-legalization program and eventual path to citizenship would be for the U.S. economy. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, “If the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States were provided legal status, then the 10-year cumulative increase in the gross domestic product, or GDP, of the United States would be $832 billion.” Over that period, immigration reform would create 121,000 jobs. Opening up a path to earned legal status for all undocumented immigrants would boost the U.S. economy while also helping families, who have roots in local communities, to stay together.
As the demographics in the U.S. change, immigrants will be an integral part of the country’s future. Almost nine in 10 undocumented immigrants want to be citizens. And the U.S. public wants them here, as indicated by a Gallup poll this week that found a record 72 percent of Americans believe that immigration is a plus for the U.S. At the end of the rally Wednesday, DREAMers recited their own oath of citizenship until they can be U.S. citizens. “I hereby pledge to live out the highest values of this land,” they pledged. “I am the future of this nation. I am the American dream.”