Alberto R. Gonzales: Fairness and Justice for Immigrant Children -A Proposal

In an earlier column, I asked what should be our policy with respect to immigrant children unlawfully brought to this country and raised here by their parents.  My sense of fairness tells me we should not penalize these children for the sins of their parents. However, my sense of justice tells me that we do not want the parents to benefit from those very sins.

Our immigration challenges are complex and interwoven. How we deal with them will affect our security, economy, and culture -- the very essence of who we are as a nation.  For this reason, we should pursue comprehensive reform that secures our border, imposes tougher workplace enforcement, streamlines our VISA process and expands our temporary worker program to match workers with jobs, and deals with the 12-14 million undocumented immigrants here in our country.

We must also decide the fate of those children here through no fault of their own and for whom America is the only home they know. Our federal leaders have tried and failed to find a solution.  They should set aside political considerations and try to make this right for our country.  I am in favor of comprehensive federal legislation that gives these children an opportunity to seek legal status - to pursue earned legalization.

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Variations of a plan are well known.  At a minimum, the law should benefit only those children (i) brought into the country before bill enactment (to discourage further unlawful migration) and (ii) who graduate from high school or earn a GED.  These children would be eligible to apply for special provisional legal status that would require them to meet conditions established by Congress, such as graduating from a two-year community college, completing at least two years toward a four-year degree, or serving two years in the military.  After a reasonable period, those of proven moral character and otherwise eligible for citizenship could apply for lawful permanent resident status.

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The current policies of the U.S. government allow lawful permanent residents to seek citizenship once eligible.  There are no compelling reasons to deny these immigrant children the same opportunity once they become lawful permanent residents. However, requiring a higher filing fee and imposing a longer period before they become eligible to seek U.S. citizenship appears reasonable.

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The extended wait is appropriate in fairness to the children whose parents did follow the law in seeking legal status for themselves and their children. Furthermore, Congress should impose additional restrictions, such as prohibiting 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 pathways to legal status for the parents who came into this country unlawfully.

The passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation will require hard choices. Everyone with a stake in the outcome will have to compromise.  It is my hope that with the assurance that comes from an effective comprehensive plan that secures our borders, everyone will agree that we can (and should) provide a way for innocent immigrant children to pursue their dreams.

Alberto R. Gonzales is the former United States Attorney General and the former Counsel to President George W. Bush.  He is currently the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University, Of Counsel at the Nashville law firm of Waller Lansden, and a regular columnist for Fox News Latino.

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