Despite Decades of Effort, Immigration Reform Still Eludes Congress
Amnesty, or a pathway to citizenship?
Goodlatte asked one of today's witnesses, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Democrat, where he stands on the "question of the day" -- whether there's middle ground between the extremes of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and deporting them. Castro rejected the notion that a pathway to citizenship is "extreme."
"I do believe that a pathway to citizenship should be the option that Congress selects. I don't see that as an extreme option," he said. "To my mind it would be unprecedented to create a class of folks stuck in this kind of limbo not allowed to become citizens... We draw our strength from citizenship, that is the essence of who we are."
In today's hearing, Gowdy said ahead of the event, "Some people will focus on what they want our immigration policy to reflect, some will focus on security, some will probably use the word 'amnesty' -- I usually like to get the people who use that word to define it."
Last year, Gowdy was one of 41 House members who signed onto the "Prohibiting Back-door Amnesty Act" to nullify President Obama's executive actions allowing certain undocumented youth to stay in the country. Still, Gowdy says he's open to ideas that could be characterized as "amnesty," such as letting undocumented immigrants stay in the country legally, as long as they meet certain requirements.
"To Sen. [Marco] Rubio [R-Fla.] and others' point, if what you have now is de facto amnesty, and you're asking for a more difficult, arduous path [to legalization] -- is that amnesty?" he asked. Gowdy declined to answer his own question, noting, "The devil is always in the details."
He said, however, that it's a worthwhile question to discuss. "It's too important of an issue to digress into phraseologies and bumper sticker attacks," he said.
Gowdy said it's reasonable -- as members of Congress and the president have suggested -- for a pathway to citizenship to include English and civics requirements. Immigrants who can't meet those standards could perhaps still be granted some legal status, he said.
For some immigration reform advocates, however, creating a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented residents is considered a necessary step.
"If we leave out a significant portion [of immigrants] and strengthen border enforcement, we believe that's a dealbreaker," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, a grassroots organization for the Latino community. "Our hope is the White House will hold the line on an inclusive, pro-migrant solution... We have to have an inclusive plan before we make life harder [for immigrants.]"
Carmona's organization is pressing for Congress to create a pathway to citizenship without the barriers called for in past failed immigration reform bills -- and which Mr. Obama and congressional leaders are calling for again. Carmona argues that putting up these barriers will simply leave millions of immigrants in legal limbo. For instance, requiring a Level 3 proficiency in English, as required by the failed 2006 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, would leave out 3.6 million immigrants, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.