Rep. Jeff Denham: U.S. must provide a ‘pathway to citizenship’

October 4, 2013 

Jeff Denham

I have met with community groups, business owners, faith-based leaders and individual constituents throughout our district to discuss our broken immigration system. One of the most contentious issues regards a so-called pathway to citizenship.

It is a difficult topic, because everyone I meet has a different understanding of what a “pathway” means. I want to outline my vision of what such a pathway should look like.

Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I am committed to finding a way for individuals to earn a legal status in our country and get right with the law without creating a “special” pathway that is not available to others who have followed the legal process toward citizenship.

Providing an opportunity for many of the 11 million undocumented people living here to earn legal status is the only way to create a long-term solution to our broken system. The solution we design in the House must also secure our border and ensure enforcement of our laws. Without a secure border and the rule of law, we will repeat the same mistakes of the past.

I support a pathway to earned citizenship that starts by requiring those applying to learn English, pay fines and back taxes, and wait in line behind those who have already applied for citizenship legally.

The Senate’s proposal establishes a three-step process to earned citizenship, following current law for achieving both a green card and ultimately citizenship, if desired.

• The first step: Undocumented immigrants living here today could apply for temporary legal status called Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. Individuals must meet certain requirements, including having entered the country prior to Dec. 31, 2011, passing background checks and demonstrating that they have not been convicted of crimes. Additionally, to apply for RPI status, undocumented immigrants must pay all of their back taxes, a $500 penalty, a form-filing fee and the application-processing fee.

If eligible, applicants would be granted RPI status that would permit them to reside legally in the United States for six years. They could apply for renewal of this temporary legal status after six years by proving that they are still employed in the United States, passing additional background checks and paying additional fees.

• The second step: After 10 years, those with RPI status would be permitted to apply under current legal procedures in place for permanent resident status, given that they meet a new series of requirements, including paying a penalty, maintaining designated income levels, passing criminal and security background checks and demonstrating that they have been paying taxes while living with RPI status.

• After waiting three years after obtaining permanent resident status, individuals with this status could apply and obtain citizenship if they met all of the current requirements for citizenship – including establishing continuous residence, being able to read, write and speak English, passing a civics course, and being physically present in the United States for 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding their application.

For children brought here through no fault of their own, the path to citizenship must be faster. In the Senate’s framework, DREAM Act children would be permitted to apply for citizenship immediately after earning permanent-resident status and would not be subject to the same fines. Temporary workers, who are the backbone of California’s agricultural economy, would be able to apply for agricultural visas after working in our agriculture industry for 100 days.

This is the kind of pathway to earned citizenship that I can support. Not all 11 million will want citizenship, and not all 11 million will be eligible. But a top-to-bottom immigration solution must include a pathway.

The right immigration reform will bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, strengthen the economy and pay down our budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform could reduce deficits by $175 billion over the first 10 years and by at least $700 billion in the second decade. It also notes that a legal workforce will produce greater tax revenue through new income and payroll taxes. Reform will ensure that all undocumented immigrants are added to the tax rolls and that everyone contributes.

Conservatives are pro-legal immigration. The American people deserve immigration reform that ensures enforcement of our current laws and rids our current system of its major flaws, which have created a backlog of people applying legally for citizenship and prevented us from welcoming some of the best and brightest from across the globe to contribute to our economy. Any legislation that we pass should be a lasting fix that will benefit our nation for generations.

Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, represents the 10th Congressional District, which includes all of Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County.

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