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Will this be the year that immigration reform passes in Congress? Republicans eager to attract Latino voters are floating a plan this week to provide a path to legalization — but not full citizenship — for millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
But Democrats might balk at what they call second-class citizenship for some immigrants. Two activists with differing views on how to achieve immigration reform joined Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, defends the Republican plan.
“Look, politics is the art of the possible,” Aguilar said. “There are many Republicans that feel that you’re being unfair for those who are waiting outside of the country to get their immigrant visa and enter the country legally, to guarantee a path to citizenship for people who violated the law. And I appreciate that point of view. So we have an opportunity right now to bring 11 million people or more out of the shadows, which is what the majority of Hispanics care about.”
But Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete of Promise Arizona worries that granting legal status without a path to citizenship would create a group of second-class citizens.
“To put into law a policy that creates a two-tiered system, that does scare me,” Navarrete said. “We’ve never done that as a country — to completely ban any type of citizenship. So if the proposal does not ban a pathway to citizenship, then I think that’s a good start for us to begin having a conversation.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW, and on the heels of President Obama's renewed call for immigration reform last night, Republicans holding their annual retreat today are expected to talk about their own plans, which are said to include a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., but not a path to full citizenship.
Joining us now to talk about immigration are two people with different views about what should happen when it comes to reform. Alfonso Aguilar ran the Office for Citizenship in the George W. Bush administration. He's now the head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Mr. Aguilar, welcome.
ALFONSO AGUILAR: Thank you for having me.
HOBSON: And Tony Navarrete is an immigration activist with the group Promise Arizona. He's with us from Phoenix. Hi Tony.
OTONIEL NAVARRETE: Hello.
HOBSON: So tell me first, Mr. Aguilar, let me go to you. What did you hear last night? Did you hear between what President Obama and then Cathy McMorris Rodgers said, some kind of a way forward on immigration reform? And what is it?
AGUILAR: Yes, indeed. I mean, I thought the speech in general from the president was very confrontational, but the only issue where he was not confrontational was immigration. And that's good. He didn't speak for a long time about immigration, but that's good. You know, he right now is very toxic on Capitol Hill. So the less he says, the better for immigration reform.
I think in terms of the House leadership, they're committed to getting something done. I think it's going to be done in a piecemeal basis, procedurally. It doesn't mean that it's not going to be comprehensive in the sense that it's going to be separate bills, but they're going to address all the different aspects of the immigration dilemma.
I think the only thing, and this may be the big difference, is that for the majority of undocumented, Republicans are not offering a special, guaranteed path to citizenship. They're not closing the door to citizenship, but they're saying we'll legalize you, but if you want to become a citizen, you would have to follow the process in current law. That is the only difference.
HOBSON: Well why is that? Because that is a part of the Senate bill, it would offer a path to citizenship. Why, Alfonso, are Republicans and it sounds like you not interested in that pathway to citizenship?
AGUILAR: Well, you know, the question is not a path to citizenship. The question is a special path to citizenship. Look, politics is the art of the possible. There are many Republicans that feel that you being unfair for those who are waiting outside of the country to get their immigrant visa and enter the country legally, to guarantee a path to citizenship for people who violated the law. And I appreciate that point of view.
So we have an opportunity right now to bring 11 million people or more out of the shadows, which is what the majority of Hispanics care about. Give them a path to legal status. Republicans are saying for the DREAMers, for those who entered illegally when they were minors, for those let's give them a guaranteed special path to citizenship. But for the rest, let's keep the door of citizenship open, but let's not provide them a special path.
And a recent study shows that under the Republican proposal, up to 6.5 million of those who legalize would have access to citizenship.
HOBSON: Which is not as many as under the Democratic proposal, obviously. But Tony Navarette, what do you think about that, about the difference between a path to citizenship and a path to legal status?
NAVARRETE: Well once again I think the reality is that we still have not seen an actual bill, an actual proposal that actually details exactly what that looks like. And in terms of the Senate bill, in terms of when we're talking about special path to citizenship, I think that special path really only applies to the DREAMers. You know, it applies to some of the farm workers.
But I don't think anyone is trying to find a special path. That's such a toxic word to use. And the fact that you have bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, you know, where you had a good amount of Republicans sign on to this bill, you know, really shows that there is some leadership there.
And I think what the American people really want to see is leadership really come out of the House Republicans, so that we can actually have a bill that highlights exactly how we're going to take care of the situation (unintelligible)...
HOBSON: But it doesn't look like that Senate bill is going to pass through the House, and so I'm wondering would you rather have a path to legalization, a path to legal status, which the House Republicans, you know, they're meeting right now to talk about this, but it looks like that's probably what they're going to propose. Would you rather have that or just the current system if it comes down to it?
NAVARRETE: Well, of course if it comes down to it, you know, I do want to make sure that the 11 million are being recognized here in the United States so that they don't have to worry about, like Mr. Aguilar said, living in the shadows. But when you have such a small percentage of naysayers out there who are saying no, no, no, no, no, it really begins to affect a lot of the middle-ground politicians, who do feel that there is a need for citizenship.
And, you know, I don't want us to forget the fact that, you know, the majority of Americans, poll after poll, bipartisan polls, too, Republican polls, Democratic polls all have shown a significant amount of support for citizenship. So the fact that, you know, our elected officials are not giving the American people what they want really begins to challenge a lot of voters because the Latino support for the Republican Party has just plummeted.
HOBSON: Well, Alfonso Aguilar, let me bring you in there because he did bring up the point there that a lot of the reason why we're even having this conversation is because after the last election, many analysts on the Republican side of the aisle said the Republicans have got to embrace this issue and really pass reform because they're losing the Latino vote.
AGUILAR: Well, I think they are embracing it. Look, the majority of Latinos, including myself, want to see a path to citizenship. But for the majority, the most important thing is to come out of the shadows. And I think it would be very cynical if Democrats and President Obama try to kill a legalization bill because it doesn't have a special path to citizenship.
HOBSON: Tony, do you think there is going to be a bill that gets passed this year?
NAVARRETE: I definitely hope so. Like I said, the fact that the GOP is developing this set of principles is very encouraging, and I think it speaks to the issue that we still need to solve. To put into law a policy that creates a two-tiered system, that does scare me because I don't think - we've never done that as a country to completely ban any type of citizenship.
So if the proposal does not ban a pathway to citizenship, then I think that is - that's a good start for us to begin having a conversation.
HOBSON: Alfonso, your thoughts on that?
AGUILAR: Well, then, we're in agreement. But I just want to make sure that nobody is saying that we're going to take the option of citizenship for those who legalize. What Republicans are saying is no special path. So you're here in the country, you legalized, you attained legal status. If you want to become a citizen, then you would have to look at the avenues that the law offers to become a permanent resident and eventually a citizen.
HOBSON: Alfonso, just before we go, I want to ask your reaction to what Bill Crystal(ph), the conservative commentator, said this week, which was that the Republicans shouldn't do anything on this issue because it's politically not good for them in a year when people are focused on the problems with the health care law before the election.
AGUILAR: That is ridiculous. We've had community meetings and town halls with members of Congress. And we haven't seen hundreds or thousands of conservatives rushing to them to complain to members of Congress over immigration as it happened with Obamacare. Our base supports immigration reform. This is politically a winning issue for us.
It allows us to make inroads with Latinos, and we will become competitive again with the Latino vote.
HOBSON: Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. And we've been also talking with Tony Navarrete, an immigration activist with the group Promise Arizona. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
AGUILAR: Thank you.
NAVARRETE: Wonderful, thank you.
HOBSON: You can go to hereandnow.org to let us know your thoughts on this issue. Should there be a path to citizenship for people who are here illegally, or should it be just a path to legal status or neither? Let us know, hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.