Undocumented Penn students may stand to benefit from a bipartisan push for immigration reform, but they’re not celebrating yet.
Last week, the so-called “Gang of Eight,” made up of four Democratic and four Republican senators, unveiled an outline for the first major immigration reform in over 25 years. The plan would create a path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, contingent on increased border security and other measures to enforce immigration laws.
Perhaps most relevant to Penn students is a commitment to make citizenship requirements less stringent for people who came to the United States illegally as children.
The group proposed that undocumented people register with the government, undergo a background check and “[settle] their debt to society by paying a fine” before going to the back of the line to obtain a green card, according to the five-page report released by the Gang of Eight. People who were brought to the country as children, however, “did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws,” and consequently will not face the same requirements.
Despite the fact that the proposal could make it easier for undocumented students to become citizens, some students were not satisfied.
“Immediately several flaws jumped out at me,” Wharton junior Jose Gonzalez, the executive director of Penn for Immigrant Rights, said. The plan would only allow the steps toward legalization to begin once the border is secure, “but they leave out any definition or standard of what a secure border is,” he added. The conditions could be used to prevent any real change from occurring, he said.
College junior Emmanuel Cordova, who announced his undocumented status in an October Daily Pennsylvanian guest column, thought the proposal neglected to take families into account. While it would make citizenship easy for so-called “dreamers” — people who were brought to the country when they were young — it does not make any exceptions for parents.
“It’s important for people to realize that, yeah, we’re dreamers and yeah, we’re going to college, but we’re only here because our parents sacrificed everything to come here,” he said. “For dreamers, it’s important for our parents to become legalized as much as it is to become legalized ourselves.”
College sophomore Sheila Quintana, an undocumented immigrant, was also dissatisfied with the divisions the proposal created — specifically between parents and their children.
“I have a hard time being happy about anything that leaves anyone out,” she said.
She added that the plan neglected to address the needs of LGBT families — a concern Cordova also raised.
The proposal would provide an easier path to permanent residency for immigrants who receive advanced degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — a measure that has “strong bipartisan support,” political science professor Rogers Smith said.
While this is just the starting point of a process that will drag out in the coming months, Smith expressed confidence that comprehensive immigration reform would be passed.
“There’s a real chance we could have legislation by the end of the summer,” he said. “This is a high-priority item and there is a significant amount of support for action in both parties, driven by the fact that Republicans realize Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic and they’re losing them three to one.”
Should legislation pass through Congress, it would likely become law. President Barack Obama, while not outright endorsing the plan, has indicated that he agrees with its principles.