Ali Noorani: New Immigration Process Must Include Road to Citizenship

The song goes: “I’m proud to be an American.”

Not: “I’m proud to sort of be an almost-American.”

As Congress turns its attention to immigration reform, leaders across the political spectrum recognize that a new immigration process must include a road to legal status for otherwise law-abiding, taxpaying aspiring Americans who now lack documentation.

But some hesitate or hedge on the question of whether these new Americans should have a clear path to citizenship or to something lawful-but-less.

A commanding majority of American voters have no such qualms — good news for those in Congress who like the idea of a road to citizenship but may be worried about their next primary. More important, it’s convincing evidence for legislators who are truly undecided.

Recent bipartisan polling reveals in no uncertain terms that Americans think contributing immigrants should have a roadmap to citizenship — including 83 percent of Republicans, according to a poll this month conducted jointly by the Romney campaign’s polling firm and one other.

Clearly, we are uncomfortable with the idea of a permanent class of in-betweens or not reallys.

As well we should be. We understand that the blessings of liberty and freedom that accompany citizenship must not have an asterisk next to them, just as people who aspire to be citizens recognize that their commitment to the United States can be nothing less than full-fledged.

Now, as throughout our nation’s history, people move here to enhance their chances at freedom, success and equal opportunity. These values remain at the core of the American ideal, and they require hard work. Pursuit of the American dream has no place for half-heartedness.

Likewise, our laws should have no place for anything less than earned citizenship that truly cements new Americans’ commitment to country and full participation in our economy, our communities and our political and civic life.

With citizenship, careers blossom, educational opportunities broaden and communities get stronger. Without it, only doubt would blossom, and new ideas, innovation and contributions would falter.

How strongly do American voters support Citizenship over Something Less?

A Jan. 10-14 Associated Press-GfK poll found “a major increase in support” for citizenship — 62 percent, vs. 50 percent in 2010 — “driven by a turnaround in Republicans’ opinions after the 2012 elections.”

Provide more context and the support for earned citizenship skyrockets. In a poll conducted Jan. 7-10 by Public Opinion Strategies, the Republican polling firm that worked with the Romney campaign, and Hart Research Associates, a Democratic one, 87 percent of participants said legalization for immigrants here without documents should include the opportunity to earn citizenship; only 7 percent rejected the notion. Among Republicans, the split was 83 percent to 10 percent. (The poll was sponsored by the National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice and the Service Employees International Union.)

The same poll revealed that voters want a new immigration process that is broad and enduring. A package that includes stronger border security, verification of a legal workforce, earned citizenship for those who learn English and pay taxes, and that ties future immigration to our economic need found support among 77 percent of participants — including 80 percent of Republicans.

Congress must catch up to voters of all political stripes who are sending a clear message: We need a better immigration process that includes not only accountability at the border and on the tax rolls, but also a roadmap to full citizenship.

Nothing less will honor our history as a nation of immigrants and our own accountability to newcomers who breathe life into our country and its economy — and who will be more than proud to be Americans, if only we give them the chance.