As the national debate on immigration reform unfolds in the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate, undocumented Latinos should be reading Section S.744 of the 844 page bill carefully to see what it really says about the path to citizenship. They won’t be fooled by anything less than an authentic road that leads to full voting rights. Even if they have to endure background checks, merit-systems, fees and fines along the way.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, proposes a 10-year wait before immigrants can apply for legal permanent residency (a green card) and then a 3-year wait until naturalization and subsequently, full citizenship. If a federal immigration reform law actually passes, undocumented residents of the U.S. will become “provisional” residents here, not citizens or green card holders, but not illegals either. The “registered provisional immigrant status” (RPI) status will allow them to live and work here legally.  For “Dreamers,” the children of illegal immigrant parents, the provisional status will last only 5 years.

The bill is already starting to unravel.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) is now proposing that the bill be broken down into separate parts, dealing first with the most sensitive areas involving border security and changes to seasonal guest worker permits for the farm sector. It is discouraging that Chairman Goodlatte is taking a lukewarm approach to the citizenship path and has stated that he does not favor a “special pathway” to citizenship, and a legal status that is not quite citizenship.  

Meanwhile, as the politicking unfolds, more than one million individuals obtain legal permanent resident status each year, according to the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. In 2012, 12,237 who live in Connecticut were among them. Latinos in the group come from the Caribbean, Central and South America, and are our Columbian, Dominican, Guatemalan, Mexican, Peruvian and Ecuadorian neighbors. 

What is delaying their path to becoming citizens?

“As we endeavor to address the roadblocks to civic participation and many other details about immigration reform, allowing those immigrants with green cards to vote is not only a logical measure, it is something we should all support,” said state Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) and Chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus. “They are, for all intents and purposes, tax-paying citizens of the United States and should be afforded the right to make their voices heard through the electoral process. This must definitely be a part of this conversation.”  

Permanent Legal residents are making their way in the U.S. despite anti-immigration and deportation advocates. The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) now also allows those under 30 who are still undocumented to work legally in two-year increments. A number of states, including Massachusetts, Colorado and Oregon, support undocumented driver’s licenses, and in Connecticut, “dreamers” can pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.  

Despite the obstacles, they are already part of the fabric of our state. 

Getting federal immigration reform is going to be a long, hard struggle, and it could fail just as the gun control effort did. Let’s take full advantage of citizen preparation services in place right now to promote citizenship and civic engagement. Then let’s get them to vote.

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