Creating a Road to Citizenship Will Advance Our Nation’s Core Interests

By: Angela Maria Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy, and Ann Garcia, Research & Policy Associate, Immigration, Center for American Progress.

Follow the Center for American Progress at @amprog.

After six long years of urging our elected leaders to catch up to public opinion and deliver common-sense reforms that will fix our broken immigration system, we finally have a breakthrough. The post-election narrative revealed a new conventional wisdom: immigration reform is not a dangerous political wedge issue to be avoided, it is a public policy issue to be solved. Democrats have promised it, Republicans need it, and the public demands it.

This new thinking has translated into action. A bipartisan “Gang of 8” in the Senate has released principles and is drafting immigration reform legislation. President Obama launched a complementary effort, including release of a blueprint and the promise of legislation should Congress stall, to push the process forward. At the heart of both initiatives is a tough but fair road to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. Both plans will also address dysfunction in our legal immigration system and make it easier for people to come to the United States with visas instead of smugglers.

While the political motivations propelling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to put their muscle behind legislative action on immigration are complex, the policy implications for America are straightforward. Immigration reform will advance the country’s core interests by promoting economic growth, leveling the playing field for all employers and workers, stabilizing communities, and protecting families.

Providing a roadmap for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship will enable them to maximize their income potential and prevent them from being pitted against native workers in a race to the bottom. Creating a 21st century legal immigration system for workers across the skills spectrum, will ensure that we are meeting the needs of American businesses in a global economy. A practical solution for undocumented immigrants plus reforms to our legal system would add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to U.S. GDP over a decade. These big gains occur because legalized workers earn higher wages than undocumented workers, and they use those wages to purchase things such as houses, cars, and clothes. As more money flows through the U.S. economy, businesses grow to meet the demand for more goods and services, and more jobs and economic value are created. Failing to seize this growth opportunity would be economic malpractice.

America has over 16 million mixed-status families with at least one U.S. citizen and one undocumented family member living under one roof. That means there are few communities in America not touched by the consequences of our dysfunctional immigration system. Families are split apart every day when undocumented parents, sons and daughters are detained and deported to a place they no longer call home. Other families are kept apart by a system that does not let them reunite for years on end. And those immigrant families who are spared the heartache of separation live in fear of a knock at the door from immigration officials. The toll does not stop at the family’s front door; it is deeply felt by the communities where these families have made a home.

Immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will help end these types of separations and will help preserve family unity while fostering more integrated and safer communities. As Americans we cannot look the other way as communities are fractured, families are split apart, and workers are paid less-than-equal wages. This is why the Center for American Progress is all-in on immigration reform.

Sign LULAC's "I Voted for Immigration Reform" Campaign to send a postcard to your Members of Congress saying that you expect immigration reform this year at LULAC.org/CIR2013.

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