Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Path to citizenship should be a long hike

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 2:24 PM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
Children of naturalized immigrants participate in a U.S. citizenship ceremony January 29 in New York.
Children of naturalized immigrants participate in a U.S. citizenship ceremony January 29 in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Citizenship for illegal immigrants is most difficult issue in reform
  • GOP leaning toward legal status, he says, but not the proposed path to citizenship
  • Navarrette: Undocumented should have legal status ASAP to avoid more deportations
  • Citizenship should be difficult to obtain, Navarrette says

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Being native-born means never having to think about citizenship. Those concerns are for immigrants, either those who are in the U.S. illegally and want a chance to get legal status or those who already have legal status and would like to upgrade to full citizenship and all the perks that come with it, including voting.

The deeper your roots go, the less likely you are to think about citizenship. Both my parents, three of my four grandparents and half my great-grandparents were all born in the United States. So I've hardly given it a thought.

Until now. I have written about immigration for nearly a quarter-century. I want an end to the deportation frenzy caused by the Obama administration and a chance for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants to have a shot at legal status. Solutions to these pressing problems pivot on citizenship and what it should cost. More than border security, temporary workers, employer sanctions or reforms to the process for admitting legal immigrants, citizenship has emerged as the linchpin of immigration reform.

Key Republican: Undocumented immigrants 'not clamoring' for citizenship

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

If you pulled together 100 undocumented immigrants and asked them how they feel about citizenship, you'd probably get 100 different answers. Some value the chance to become citizens, while others couldn't care less and would settle for a driver's license and the right to travel freely across borders.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Those diverse opinions make it difficult for reformers to know what they should demand in negotiations, what they should hold out for and what they should be willing to ditch if necessary for a deal.

On Tuesday, some House Republicans signaled that they might be amenable to a middle-ground option in which millions of illegal immigrants get legal residency but not the path to citizenship that Democrats are pushing. And the signals were flashing all over town.

They flashed at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, its first on immigration this session, in which Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador told Democrats that -- if they put aside politics and forgo a pathway to citizenship -- they would find "good will here in the House of Representatives for us to come together, actually pass a pragmatic solution to the current problem that we have, and solve and modernize the immigration system for years to come."

Legal immigrants: What about us?

Another signal: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, in which he endorsed comprehensive immigration overhaul, minus citizenship, as the "right thing to do." Cantor even changed his tune on the idea of offering a pathway to legal status and citizenship to illegal immigrant students who were brought here as children. He was against it before he was in favor of it.

Senators: Common ground on immigration
Cantor details GOP immigration demands
Locals: Arizona border is not secure

And House Speaker John Boehner also signaled a cooperative spirit. In talking to reporters before the hearing, he refused to back an earned pathway to citizenship, calling it "a very difficult part" of legislation, but encouraged bipartisan solutions.

Immigration Q&A: Amnesty or path to citizenship?

A middle-of-the-road solution is the way to go. Getting Republicans -- and, frankly, conservative and pro-labor Democrats -- to support an earned pathway to citizenship would be a heavy lift. But it would be a shame to leave this historic moment empty-handed.

For Republicans, the politics of this is lose-lose. They'll encounter the wrath of voters either way. But they should hold the line and either push back against an earned pathway to citizenship or, as a last resort, do everything they can to make sure that any pathway is not a cake walk. Why not? Because U.S. citizenship has tremendous value, and we shouldn't give it away on the cheap.

U.S.-born citizens don't need an earned pathway to citizenship. We get it without effort or sacrifice. I managed to be born -- 45 years ago -- at a hospital in Fresno, California. And the rest was easy.

Immigrants in America: The second-generation story

Warren Buffet uses the phrase "the lottery of the womb" to describe the concept of inherited wealth. But it applies to citizenship as well.

Citizenship is priceless. It's about a lot more than voting. It's about becoming a stitch in the American fabric and about joining the American community. It's about knowing U.S. history and being wise enough to learn from it.

It's about knowing English, even as we strive to acquire new languages. It's about surrendering your allegiance to another country or another flag, and -- as President Kennedy said -- asking not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

What's in Senate immigration plan?

It's about accepting that with rights come responsibilities. It's about being proud to be part of a narrative that includes the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, Robert Kennedy and Robert Frost, Cesar Chavez and Sonia Sotomayor. Most of all, it's about recognizing and accepting that the greatness of this country makes us all look tiny by comparison.

That's a lot to think about. So let's give the undocumented legal status as soon as possible so they can't be deported by an administration that has shown a knack for apprehensions and removals.

And yet let's also make the path to citizenship long enough so those who travel it have time to process it all and difficult enough so that, if they eventually get citizenship, they'll treasure it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT