Immigration activists on Friday rejected the idea of granting legal status short of citizenship to illegal immigrants in emerging legislation. The activists said that only citizenship would be acceptable for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants and that the compromise idea floated by some House Republicans, offering legalization but not citizenship, won't work.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, said allowing illegal immigrants to legalize their status without the prospect of citizenship would "create an institutionalized group of second-class non-citizens."
"When we've said to a whole group of people, 'You're good enough to work here but not good enough to be one of us,' it hasn't worked out well," Sharry said on a conference call with other activists to urge swift action on comprehensive immigration legislation.
A framework for a bipartisan bill in the Senate includes a path to citizenship, which President Barack Obama also supports. But some House Republicans uncomfortable with letting illegal immigrants become citizens — labeled amnesty by critics — have suggested finding another way of dealing with them.
At a hearing earlier this week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., raised the question, "Are there options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?"
Activists on Friday's call noted citizens have rights, including voting, that non-citizens don't have. "Those rights cannot be negated to a whole population, so that's what we're fighting for," said Angelica Salas with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
Even if illegal immigrants are given the right to become citizens, it's likely many would not pursue the opportunity, for various reasons. A Pew Hispanic Center study this week said that of 5.4 million immigrants from Mexico who are eligible to become U.S. citizens, only 36 percent had taken the step. Across all immigrant groups, 61 percent of those eligible have achieved citizenship.
The study cited various factors, including people who said they don't know English, a requirement for citizenship, and the cost of filing a citizenship request, which is $680. As for why Mexicans were less likely than other groups to pursue citizenship, the study said that Mexicans are more likely than others to maintain close ties with their home country because of its close proximity to the U.S.