One Democratic representative introduced legislation on Friday that would begin President Barack Obama’s commitment to push forward with comprehensive immigration reform.
San Bernardino County Democratic Rep. Joe Baca of Rialto introduced the People Resolved to Obtain an Understanding of Democracy Act, which would amend the Nationality Act to allow exemplary non-citizen high school graduates to apply for citizenship. Under the PROUD Act, graduates would need to provide the necessary academic transcripts; show an understanding of United States history, government and civics; and prove they are of good moral character.
“America is the land of opportunity, we are blessed to live in a nation where people of diverse backgrounds can come together as one,” Baca said in a news release. “The PROUD Act is important legislation that puts our most responsible and successful immigrant students on a streamlined path for citizenship, and at the same time motivates all our students to do their best and to stay out of trouble.”
The PROUD Act was previously introduced in the 111th Congress as part of a larger comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill received 103 cosponsors, but it failed to make it out of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.
With Republicans now controlling the House of Representatives and having greater numbers in the Senate, Baca’s introduction of the PROUD Act this year is likely to get no further than it did in the previous Congress. When the DREAM Act, which would have given a pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who attended college or joined the military, failed to pass the Senate, President Obama said he would make comprehensive immigration reform one of his top priorities for 2011 and that he also would continue pressing to get the DREAM Act passed; however, Republicans took a hardline stance saying they would not support any legislation that provided amnesty before the country’s borders were secure.
With the 112th Congress now in session, the Republicans already are showing their tough stance on the issue. On Thursday, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the vice chairman of the Immigration subcommittee, introduced legislation that would ban children born on United States soil to “illegal alien parents” from automatically becoming citizens – in essence the legislation would change the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As the 14th Amendment currently reads, any person born or naturalized on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen. King’s “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011” bill would require that at least one parent of a child born in the U.S. be a citizen.
The subcommittee’s chairman, Republican California Rep. Elton Gallegly, said his first two hearings would be on oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement worksite enforcement and the E-Verify employment screening program. Gallegly said he wanted to make sure those who were in this country illegally did not get benefits that might put them ahead of those who came into this country and followed the laws.
“We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws,” he said. “Most of my district casework concerns helping legal immigrants. Like our ancestors, immigrants who come here legally want to be American citizens, with all the responsibilities that go with it. It is unfair to those who put in the time and effort to immigrate here legally to allow illegal immigrants to break in through the back door.
“The answer to illegal immigration is fairly simple. First, we must enforce our laws and secure the border. Second, we must remove the magnets that encourage illegal immigration. Finally, we must remove the benefits that make it easy for them to stay.”
While President Obama and Democrats would agree with Republicans that the ICE worksite enforcement and E-Verify system needed to be expanded and better enforced, they have not agreed with Republicans about helping the immigrants who are in this country – legal or illegal – from finding the means to become U.S. citizens. Democrats contend it would be virtually impossible to deport the millions of illegal immigrants who already are here, and if they were given a pathway to citizenship – not automatic citizenship but a pathway toward citizenship – they could better contribute to society.
In the case of the DREAM Act and the PROUD Act, President Obama and Democrats have said it is not fair to punish the children of illegal immigrants because they were brought into this country at no fault of their own. Most of the children know nothing else but life in the United States, speak fluent English, go through the country’s educational system and want nothing more than to find work and contribute to society as if they are U.S. citizens, the president and Democrats have said.
“It is wrong to have policies that unfairly punish the innocent young people who came to America by no choice of their own as children,” Baca said. “By recognizing those hard-working, immigrant students who are here to make a better life for themselves and their families, the PROUD Act can make a positive impact in schools and communities throughout our nation. And by increasing the number of high-skilled, citizen workers, this legislation can boost our economic recovery by creating additional tax revenue at the local, state, and federal level.”
Republicans, though, do not see it that way and that is why Baca’s bill is unlikely to be anything more than a symbolic gesture to aspects of the Democratic base.
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