Unfortunately for voters, Republican candidates and office holders are convinced that 10 to 11 million people can be forced out of the United States. That is a population roughly the size of Ohio or Georgia. Two-thirds of the 10-11 million immigrants living here illegally have been here more than a decade and about half have children, most of whom are U.S. citizens themselves. Even in the greatest recession of our lifetimes, when jobs are hard to find for everyone and illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle and states are passing harsher and harsher laws, not many of these 10-11 million immigrants are choosing to "self-deport," to use Mitt Romney's phrase.
American voters are much more practical than Republican lawmakers and candidates. Even those who wish 10-11 million people will leave the U.S. realize that it is not going to happen. They are right. The Republican approach to the immigration issue rests on pure fantasy.
So what do you do with a population of 10-11 million people who live, work, and have families in the U.S.? Most Democrats and most voters want to get them into the system, on-the-books, and complying with the law. To do this, proposals have been put forth to force immigrants to pay fines, pass criminal background checks and other screenings, learn English, and live in a probationary period for a time in order to earn the ability to avoid deportation and eventually apply to be a "Legal Permanent Resident" (which allows you to ultimately apply to become a citizen after a number of years). This eliminates the black market, makes enforcement much more efficient, weeds out serious criminals, allows honest employers to retain and hire a legal workforce, and ensures that labor laws, taxation and a number of other rules are applied evenly across the board.
It also takes care of a particularly difficult problem faced by young people who grew up in the United States but were born in other countries. At least a million young people were brought here as children and have no papers. They have not knowingly or willfully broken any law by moving with their parents, yet they are trapped in limbo, unable to work legally, charged a much higher rate for tuition in most higher education settings, and unable to get legal in the U.S.
Back in 2010, the DREAM Act, a bill proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Howard Berman of California and others passed the House by a vote of 216-198 (with eight Republicans voting "Yea"), but ran aground on a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate. The vote to override the filibuster was carried live coast-to-coast on two TV networks (Univision and Telemundo) that had broken into their regularly scheduled programs. Viewers that day watched almost every Republican Senator and a handful of Democrats vote to kill the bill.
Now, a number of Republican politicians, seeing the gap between the GOP's position and the views of most voters -- and especially Latino voters -- are trying to find a middle ground, or what they consider a middle ground.
They are proposing to legalize some immigrants who are here illegally —but only a select few — and to deny them the opportunity of eventually earning citizenship. One proposal would only allow protection from deportation if an undocumented immigrant served in the U.S. military. Another would only allow immigrants to avoid deportation by serving in the military or by attending a four year college—and only if they applied and were accepted before they turned 18 and a half years old. This proposal and others would create a second class non-citizen, pseudo legal status in which you could live and work but never participate fully in American society with the full rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
So, they propose to exclude almost all of the immigrants already living here and would create a non-citizen class that might never fully integrate into the United States. Never serve on a jury. Never run for elected office. Never vote. This generation of immigrants, unlike every group of immigrants to ever come to the United States, would be excluded from becoming Americans. Like France, we would have a generation of non-citizens living here but not fully part of society. It is a recipe for disaster and at odds with everything that makes the American tradition of immigration so unique, and compelling. And successful.
It is ironic that the proposals are coming mainly from Florida Republicans, many of whom are Cuban by heritage and whose families are just a generation or two separated from being economic and political migrants seeking freedom and opportunity — and inclusion — in America.
In order to find a more practical — and popular — approach that mitigates the damage done to Republicans by the immigration hardliners, these proposals abandon what has been so successful about immigration in this country. Immigrants are changed by America and over time, we live by our motto, E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. We should not lose sight of this fundamental underpinning of Democracy and American society.
Rep. Gutiérrez represents Illinois' 4th Congressional District and is the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Task Force on Immigration.