Republican lawmakers have recently introduced bills to provide permanent resident legal status to qualified immigrant children brought here illegally by their parents, and to increase the number of visas for foreign-born graduates with advanced high-tech degrees. Coming just weeks after the poor showing by Republicans among Hispanic voters in the November 2012 elections, critics have characterized these efforts as nothing more than a desperate attempt at political survival. This may indeed be true.
However, better to be known as a political opportunist rather than as a stubborn fool who ignores the reality of a growing demographic political tidal wave in America.
Some Republicans continue to fight reform under the belief that if immigrants become citizens many will support the Democratic Party
- Alberto Gonzales, Former U.S. Attorney General
As a starting point, I support providing some form of legal status to qualified children of immigrants who go to college or serve in the military. The proposed legislation, however, provides only permanent resident status, with no pathway to citizenship. The current posture of our government favors that lawful permanent residents seek citizenship once eligible. The reason given to deny these immigrant children the same opportunity is so their parents are not rewarded for their unlawful actions. I defer to Congress on this policy.
However, the children who qualify for this program will be persons who are college educated or have served in the military. These are precisely the type of individuals we should all want as fellow citizens. If we do not provide a pathway to citizenship now, we will likely be revisiting the question of their citizenship in the near future.
If Congress is concerned about fairness to the children of parents who followed the law, then legislators could still provide a pathway to citizenship to the children of parents who did not, but require an extended wait and a higher fee for eligibility if they later wish to become citizens.
Additionally, Congress could prohibit these lawful permanent residents from filing a petition for legal status for any family member, other than a subsequently acquired spouse and minor children. This would address concerns that by providing legal status to these immigrant children, we do not provide a pathway to legal status for the parents who came into this country unlawfully.
I also support increasing the number of high-tech visas in order to encourage more highly skilled workers to enter the U.S. workforce. Opponents of this bill object to converting visa slots in the diversity-visa lottery category and making them available for high-tech graduates. I disagree. Our country is well beyond using our immigration system to achieve diversity for the sake of diversity.
In a post-911 world when so many countries bear the burden of high unemployment and crushing debt, we can no longer afford to award visas outside the normal visa rules without regard to family relationship or employment skills.
Due to the complexity of our immigration challenges, there will undoubtedly be other bills introduced to strengthen our border security, to enhance workplace enforcement, to restructure our visa process, to modernize our temporary worker program and to deal with the millions of adult immigrants already here. I welcome these reform efforts, however, I disagree with the strategy of dealing with these challenges through separate bills.
I, and many others, have long advocated for a comprehensive solution. Passing a bill that focuses on just one aspect of immigration relieves pressure on our federal leaders to deal with other complexities. With so many varied interests at stake, a comprehensive plan is the best hope for a coordinated outcome that supports our national security and economy, and reaffirms our belief in the rule of law and in the sanctity of family.
The negotiation between Congress and the President will have tremendous political ramifications. Some Republicans continue to fight reform under the belief that if immigrants become citizens many will support the Democratic Party. The answer is not to try to stop the inevitable change within the American electorate. Instead, Republicans should embrace policies that appeal to a majority of these new citizens. Respect for the rule of law, tougher border security and enhanced workplace enforcement should resonate with them, provided those policies are fair and compassionate.
They say the difference between a politician and a statesman is that the politician is concerned only about the next election, while the statesman is concerned about the next generation. Regrettably, many Americans view Washington officials as politicians. Let us hope that in the coming discussions on immigration, Americans will be introduced to a new generation of statesmen.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former U.S. Attorney General and White House Counsel in the George W. Bush Administration. Presently he is the Dean and Doyle Rogers Distinguished Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law.