In the struggle for comprehensive immigration reform, it’s crunch time (finally):

A raucous public debate over the nation’s flawed immigration system is set to begin in earnest this week as senators finalize a bipartisan bill to secure the border, allow tens of thousands of foreign workers into the country and grant eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living here illegally. …

“There’s a long road,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., appearing alongside [Sen.] McCain on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “There are people on both sides who are against this bill, and they will be able to shoot at it.”

Schumer, McCain and their “Gang of Eight” already missed a self-imposed deadline to have their bill ready in March, but Schumer said he hopes that this week, it will happen.

Meanwhile, across the rotunda in the House of Representatives, a second “Gang of Eight” is feverishly at work crafting their own immigration bill. One notable difference in the House bill is the 15-year path to citizenship, which is two years longer than the Senate bill.

According to those in the know, the House bill would provide a second, shorter pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.

Everyone else would have to pay back taxes and fines and pass a background check before receiving a work permit renewable for 10 years. After 10 years they could then apply for a green card (permanent residency), following the normal pathway to citizenship from then on — green cardholders must wait five years before they can apply for citizenship; three, if they’re married to a U.S. citizen.

Both the Senate bill and Obama’s backup plan have 13-year paths to citizenship.

“There is a lot of room between not preventing citizenship and not giving newly legalized immigrants a special path to citizenship,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Chicago) wrote in an op-ed. “I think we will be able to find the sweet spot where neither side will be overjoyed, but each side will be satisfied.”

Hopefully, the waiting period doesn’t become a major point of contention, because at the end of the day, unauthorized immigrants are only looking for two things: permission to live and work in the country, and a time frame as to when they can become citizens.

Most unauthorized immigrants aren’t hung up about whether they’ll have to wait five years or 15 to become American citizens. What really concerns them is not knowing — not knowing if today’s the day they’ll get caught driving without a license and deported, not knowing when their situation will improve, if ever.

Whatever the outcome is of the current push for a fairer immigration system, let’s hope it keeps families together, workers at work, and puts immigrants on a path to citizenship.

Anything more than the status quo and less than full amnesty would be widely celebrated.


[Photo: US Social Forum via Flickr]

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