The Senate immigration bill offers a “broad yet stringent” legalization program that will put most of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants on the road to eventual citizenship. It provides for an essentially “three step process” which consists of:
- Applying for “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI) status.
- Applying for lawful permanent resident status after 10 years
- Applying for U.S. citizenship after three more years
This process is the “back of the line” concept translated into policy and practice—a literal roadmap quantified and qualified in years, penalties, fines, and application processing fees. Concerns are already being raised by immigrant rights experts and advocates that the waiting period, tied to enforcement triggers, seems too long and precarious. If the border triggers are not met in six years, what will happen then? For many undocumented immigrants who have waited all their lives for a chance to be fully integrated into the American economic and cultural fabric, another 10 years of waiting while legal is nothing compared to growing old and dying without papers in this country. Many have already died waiting.
The competing passions that inform the immigration debate will only get more intense—more fraught and more emotional. On the one hand, the Senate bill and its legalization components look like the real deal: a practical, no-nonsense guide to fixing the immigration system. On the other hand, it seems to continue to punish an already struggling, disenfranchised population with high fees and by balancing their future on achievement of a secure border.
Is this great policy-making or a false construct?