Pathway to Citizenship: Thirteen Years is Too Long


By most accounts, immigration reform is coming. It’s not a matter of if, but when. When will comprehensive immigration reform be passed? And when can prospective immigrants hope to achieve citizenship once the new laws are in place?

A draft of the White House’s and President Obama’s own immigration reform proposal was leaked to the press over the weekend. While it’s still just a draft, one of the key takeaways from the bill was that it could take more than 13 years for undocumented immigrants to fully come out from the shadows and apply for citizenship.

Is that the best we can do? Can’t we get an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants integrated into American society before the year 2026?

It turns out, we probably can. According to Gordon Whitman, Director of Policy of PICO National Network, all we would need to do is look toward the already established and highly successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which created a straightforward process for undocumented DREAM Act candidates to apply for temporary legal status. According to the USCIS, 440,000 people have applied and some 200,000 have already been approved.

Whitman wrote:

“If we use DACA as a model, then the sensible thing would be for DREAMers, who’ve already submitted their paperwork and finger prints for their DACA applications, to be able to apply for Green Cards after the passage of immigration reform. And adults to apply for two-year temporary residence along the lines for DACA. That would be followed by a Green Card and the ability to apply for citizenship in another five years, which is how the current law works.

That would mean at most a seven-year path to citizenship, which is a reasonable amount of time for a person to successfully go through the process of taking on the responsibilities and rights of becoming an American citizen.”

Seven years is a lot better than 13 years. The framework already exists for us to cut down the projected time in half for immigrants to become citizens. When our elected officials sit down to iron out the details for comprehensive immigration reform, they should look to some of the good work already achieved in order to make the final process as streamlined as possible and the best it can be.

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