The Diary of Joaquín Magón Entry 31: Why Citizenship?
Citizenship is one of the most important rights in this country; so why is there talk of denying this to an entire population?
Republican members of Congress recently unveiled their “Immigration Standards,” a lengthy list of requirements that undocumented immigrants must meet in order to become legal residents – but a path to citizenship is not included on this list.
Let me tell you why full citizenship is important.
In the spectrum of extremes – on one side no immigration reform at all, on the other full citizenship to the 11 million – there is a middle ground. That middle ground can only begin with the two sides of the representative spectrum start talking, and the people they represent start pushing. The fact that the two sides are now at least talking about immigration in realistic terms is positive.
There is currently a huge population of legal permanent residents (LPR) as a result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 which granted amnesty to roughly 2.7 million people, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Aside from that there are millions more that have achieved LPR status, as well as the millions more that are the children of those immigrants who are born in the U.S. leading to a diversification in the demographics of the citizen population and, thus, the voting block.
The diversification of the voting population is a beautiful thing for a democracy. There are new growing global issues that this country is facing and, in order to tackle those issues with success, we need a global-minded population. The need for a population that can think different, that brings to the table different perspectives can only strengthen a democracy. Citizenship allows us to come to the table as equals, share each other’s ideas and acknowledge that we all deserve the same rights to representation, that we all share the same concerns for the nation’s prosperity and that we will all share our unique ideas to ensure that we move forward as a nation.
The alternative being proposed, in which LPR status does not lead to citizenship for everyone except students brought to the U.S. under a certain age, is a shift from the citizenship perspective to a criminalization perspective. The Republican “immigration standards” is a list – which includes border enforcement, entry-exit visa tracking system, employment verification and workplace enforcement, Individuals living Outside the Rule of Law – portraying an entire population as criminals.
The criminalization of an entire population whose vibrant ideas and experiences are barred from supporting the nation’s democratic system can only hurt a nation. There is potential there, huge potential, to be inclusive and to move forward together.
Citizenship drives – what I’ve been calling the other side of immigration reform – is a less media-worthy, yet very effective means of applying the political pressure necessary to achieve a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill that includes a path to citizenship. It was the quiet workings of thousands of organizations across the country working to turn LPRs into citizens that brought us to this point in time where CIR feels more real than it has felt for almost 30 years.
At the same time, citizenship has been used as one of the Latino population’s failures. According to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project report “The Path Not Taken,” only 30 percent of Mexican LPRs eligible to become full citizens do so. That is not to say that all LPRs chose to remain LPRs. The majority of LPRs from other backgrounds do, indeed, take that path.
The Mexicano, however, has a tendency to not do so. “I just don’t know how to go about it,” is the most common response — which is a key indicator that not becoming a citizen is not so much a lack of want as a need for help navigating the immigration system.
Citizenship drives are a very powerful tactic that can help achieve immigration reform and citizenship for others. We can ensure that this nation will remain strong, competitive, diverse, and ready to tackle any and all issues that arise in an ever-globalized nation, state, county, city, home.
The Diary of Joaquín Magón is written by Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix, a reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers Foundation. He is a regular contributor to Coachella Unincorporated and New America Media.