Rejecting Path to Citizenship Contradicts Democracy

A recent New York Times opinion article provided four scholars and experts on Immigration Law and Reform to debate on the issue of what the United States should do regarding Immigration Reform in the near future. One such scholar, Daniel Tichenor, is a professor of political science at the University of Oregon (the alma mater of one of our very own attorney’s) and a senior fellow at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. Professor Tichenor writes that by blocking a path the citizenship for adults who are living and in the United States “illegally” contradicts the democratic principles this country was founded on as a nation of immigrants. Read the excerpt from Professor Tichenor below:

“Creating a fixed status between citizen and legalized immigrant, as House Republicans would do by blocking a “special path to citizenship” for adults who “are living and working here illegally,” introduces deep contradictions for a democracy. Few democratic principles are more elemental than the notion that people who are subject to government authority have political rights to influence how that authority is exercised.

These obstacles to citizenship would would mark a return to older, ignoble traditions in U.S. immigration and naturalization policy that predate landmark reforms of the cold war and civil rights eras.

“I came to New York because I heard the streets were paved with gold,” as an Italian immigrant of early 20th century was said to have lamented. “When I got here, I learned three things: The streets are not paved with gold. They are not paved at all. I am expected to pave them.”

During the Gilded Age, Chinese immigrants, originally recruited as cheap labor for Western development, faced fierce violence, discrimination and eventual exclusion. Mexican arrivals faced similar patterns of marginalization and exclusion in the 20th century. After the country imposed literacy tests, national origins quotas and other draconian immigration restrictions during and after World War I, Mexicans were recruited as guest workers and as both legal and unauthorized immigrants for farm work and other menial jobs. Mexican braceros and undocumented workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse under this system, yet all Mexican immigrants confronted harsh discrimination and mass deportation campaigns (especially during economic hard times).

Revisions in U.S. naturalization law in 1952 removed bars to citizenship based on race and gender, and the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 dismantled national origins quotas. For all its frailties, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided a straightforward plan for legalizing eligible unauthorized immigrants. The current House Republican blueprints would codify subclass status for a significant portion of the population, reviving legal exclusions of the past. They would introduce permanent gradations of membership that are inherently corrosive to democracy. At bottom, free nations provide long-term residents an equal say or choice in how they are governed.”

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