Sunday, November 10, 2013

PF December 2013 - Path to Citizenship - Background

Resolved: Immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

For part one of this topic, click here

Immigration Debate Background

As I have stated in the introduction to this topic, the resolution suggests that immigration reform is a foregone conclusion.  It would appear the debate should not be about the general topic of immigrant reform; what is broken, how do we fix it? Instead we must look to one of the controversial elements of immigration reform and debate whether or not it should be included in the reformed policy.  In a nutshell, the so-called path to citizenship is a provision which establishes a method for the current undocumented migrants to achieve citizenship.  The principle controversy deals with the fact, the migrants in question are residing illegally while thousands, perhaps millions are seeking to enter the country legally and follow the already established path to eventual citizenship.  In effect, the debated path is a kind of alternative provision, another road, which many find unfair to those who are following the existing, "legal" road to citizenship that has been in place for a long while.  Opposition positions range from, deporting the undocumented persons and forbidding their re-entry to granting them residency status but forbidding them from achieving citizenship.  This latter position is especially controversial for proponents of immigration reform since it essentially creates a new class of residents who can never acquire the benefits of citizenship.

Before we can debate this topic, we must understand what is at stake.  There are an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented persons in the U.S. right now.  What is the significance of this and what does it matter what happens to them?  As you research this topic, I am confident you will discover the arguments regarding the economic impacts.  There is a "shadow" economy in which workers are paid substandard wages, taxes are uncollected, important services are provided which benefit the economy at large, and there are burdens such as the cost to health care systems.  The economics of undocumented workers will no doubt loom large in this debate, and each side should equip themselves to debate it.  I also see other important, "non-traditional" Public Forum issues in this topic and again, this seems indicative of the fact PF debate is moving more and  more toward Lincoln-Douglas kinds of issues.  (I have been claiming this for several years).  Behind this topic, and in particular the path to citizenship, is the issue of human rights, U.S. civil rights and the moral treatment of individuals.  There exists potential to examine the utilitarian benefits to society.  There is the debate about the social contract and "right" or inclination of states to decide who is allowed to be a member of the state.

A Brief Look Back

It seems, these days, so many issues find a certain nexus with the events of 9-11 (the World Trade Center terror attacks) and the reaction to it when executive power expanded in the U.S.  It is not difficult to understand how perceived U.S. border porosity could raise questions about U.S. security and subsequently spark a massive examination of the issue of undocumented persons inside the U.S. Let's step back a few years to the time when the former Immigration and Naturalization Service was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

LeJeune 2009:
United States immigrants have been under growing scrutiny and stress in recent years, especially those without proper immigration papers. Following the massive mobilizations of 2006, the Bush administration considerably increased its enforcement approach to immigration. In addition to a much tougher policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, workplace raids, home arrests, deportation orders, and placements in detention centers have multiplied alarmingly, constituting the most repressive practices immigrant workers who reside on U.S. soil have had to face. Notable abuses against them have been reported, such as the non-payment by employers of hours (if not days) of work, dire working conditions, harassment and exclusion by communities who refuse to provide housing to day laborers or explicit racial profiling by local police officers.

In 2007 there were a range of proposals put forth and debate in the Senate and House to deal with immigration reform.  One such measure, introduced by House Representative James Sensenbrenner was the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Act (H.R. 4437).  It basically criminalized the status of undocumented persons, "by making it a federal crime, an “aggravated felony” (whereas it used to be a non violent civil offense), to be without documents in the United States. By converting their “unlawful presence” into a felony, H.R.4437 would have rendered unauthorized migrants subject to mandatory detention upon apprehension. Also, it would have been a felony for anyone to provide services and assist them, whether legally, socially or medically (which would have made it very problematic even for immigration lawyers to provide counsel). (Lejeune 2009)"

The Senate, in the meantime had been hammering out their own S.B.2611 since 2006. This measure proposed a path to citizenship, which was considered popular among the majority of Americans, yet was undermined by media conservatives which framed the controversy as a form of amnesty. This rhetoric was very effective since amnesty was projected as a "slap on the wrist" and here's your residency papers kind of approval for so-called, "illegals".  Under much debate in the House, Senate, and popular media, the issues died.

In the intervening years until now, there are have been several initiatives taken by states to control "illegal" immigration which has created huge controversy over who "owns" the borders and what kind of measures can states take to manage what they perceive as the lack of federal government action.  Of particular interest in the Arizona law SB1070 which required law enforcement to check people for immigration papers based on observed "reasonable suspicion" they may be undocumented migrants.  The law was heavily scrutinized on the grounds it violated the supremacy of the Constitution and several class-action law suits challenged the potential violations to civil rights.  In June of 2012, the Supreme Court ruled several sections of the bill subject to existing federal laws but the Court allowed the provisions which permitted checking the immigration status of individuals under restricted conditions.

Despite, support for immigration reform by President Obama, a comprehensive reform bill has not passed the Senate and House.  This past January 2013, a bi-partisan panel of Senators created language for a reform bill which passed the Senate as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) in June. Among other provisions, it provided an arduous path to citizenship for undocumented migrants.  As of the date of this posting, the bill has not passed the House, which is working on its own reform bill.

Off We Go

As you can see, when you begin to look deeply into this topic, immigration reform is a deep and engaging topic which is rife with extreme rhetoric and potentially inflammatory ideology.  This brief overview only serves to provide some recent history.  In reality, the history of immigration law is as old the country itself.  Since 9-11, however, we have seen an increasing intolerance and indeed, criminalization of undocumented migrants living in the U.S.  Whether it is justified or not, is really not what we will be debating.  But I believe it is important to place this debate into some kind of a historical context, even if it is fairly recent.  Nevertheless, I encourage each of you to read more deeply.  I have only included one link to a source on this posting but there is much more on the 'interwebs' for those of you who really want to understand what you are talking about.

So having laid out this briefest of history lessons, it is time to begin examining the Pro and Con positions. 

Click here to start examining the Pro position


Immigrants in the United States: “Illegal Aliens” On Their Way To Becoming Emergent “Possible Subjects”, European Journal of American Studies
Catherine Lejeune, 2009


  1. Do you believe that any information from the September 2009 topic will be relevant?

    1. I remember the topic, though our team did not debate it. It was quite a bit different in that the resolution sought to reduce illegal immigration by either massive crack-downs and deportations or by simply granting them "instant" citizenship. The present path to citizenship is not amnesty and that is a key difference. If anything carries over, it will be the impacts of having undocumented residents, so yes, some things have not changed since 2009.


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