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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT