Esther Cepeda / Politics

Our Rich American Fabric

CHICAGO -- Of all the details yet to be negotiated in order to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, the one that really shouldn't stir controversy is the possibility of some immigrants facing a very long wait for citizenship, or not getting it at all.

The point seems like a walk in the park compared to some of the others that will require a bureaucratic overload of regulations.

For instance, look at President Obama's four-pillar framework for reform, which he says is designed to ensure that "everyone plays by the rules." The bit about "cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers" will surely constitute a brick wall.

On the left, critics say they don't trust the Department of Homeland Security's enforcement measures. They complain that the E-Verify system -- which checks worker eligibility against Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases -- is flawed, with few mechanisms for corrective action. And the right generally scoffs at the idea that private citizens who hire employees for "casual domestic labor" should be subject to such life-altering rules.

Yet, since a bipartisan Senate group and the president both presented their ideas on a compromise, the notion that once legal status is conferred immigrants would still have to step to the "back of the line" to await citizenship has become a major point of contention.

Immigrant advocates say that any deal without full citizenship as part of the package will create a "permanent underclass" and bemoan that should citizenship become an option, it is unfair to make people go through a process that, according to some estimates, could take 20 to 30 or more years.

As one young woman told the radio show "Latino USA" last week -- and I've heard this over and over again -- "Is it fair for [illegal immigrants] to have to wait four decades before they're even part of our country?"

Whoa, who said anything about not being part of the country?

The very fact that the nation's political leaders are now considering a mass legalization is a testament to the fact that these immigrants are considered an undeniable part of our country's fabric.

It's really stunning how -- depending on what demand an immigrant advocacy group wants to press -- the narrative of what it means to be American can do 180-degree turns.

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Copyright 2013 Washington Post Writers Group



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