The U.S. House of Representatives is the final frontier before desperately needed comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate bill (passing 68-32) provides a useful framework for House members to craft their own version, which they hopefully will — very soon.
Both parties agree on most provisions of comprehensive legislation: secure the border first, increase work visas for immigrant professionals and strengthen workplace enforcement.
A path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, however, remains divisive. Most House Republicans refuse to endorse it. But their rationale is wearing thin. Recent analyses by the Congressional Budget Office conclude the Senate bill — earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants and all — increases gross domestic product and reduces federal deficits, social security shortfalls and future flows of illegal immigration.
To be fair, many GOP members in the House are in a pickle — between party and personal interests. National party leaders encourage passing a comprehensive bill to woo the growing Latino electorate. Yet most Republican districts include relatively small Latino populations — congressional seats tend to be secured in primary elections. Comprehensive reform, for them, means political suicide.
But this does not have to be the case, especially not in Utah. We're peculiar. We might be the reddest state in the union, but polls indicate we overwhelmingly support the Utah Compact — immigration reform that strengthens families and our economy.
House Republicans from Utah should trust the integrity of their constituents and champion a comprehensive immigration bill. They should embrace a thoughtful path to citizenship.
Why? Doing so would strengthen the GOP nationally and shine a positive light on the beehive state. Comprehensive reform done well, moreover, strengthens families and the economy.
But how can Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, sway GOP colleagues? They should make the case that citizenship is key to immigrant integration.
Integration refers to how well immigrants and their children participate in mainstream (civic, economic, educational) American society. Integration measures in the Senate bill range from workforce training and English classes to improving schools and local service capacity, all paid by revenues from the bill.
Republicans identify with the Americanization angle of integration. Democrats laud social and economic opportunity these provisions afford poor families. We can all agree that immigrant integration is in our national interest. Perpetual poverty, low voter turnout and dismal high school graduation rates generations after immigration are not good for anyone. GOP members should stress integration provisions — even fashion their own — to persuade their colleagues to pass a comprehensive bill. Citizenship leads to integration.
This effort should be mindful of a few facts, confirmed by decades of research. First, most immigrants are poor. Sustained, focused collaboration across public and private sectors is needed to make integration effective.
Second, integration is an intergenerational process. Sociologist Alejandro Portes and others find that integration is most tenuous between the second and third generation after migrating. Integration starts but does not end with citizenship.
Third, immigrants who integrate most successfully perceive their American identity as additive rather than subtractive. They preserve native cultural and linguistic practices while integrating, rather than abandon them for the sake of rapid assimilation. Culture, in spite of popular perception, is not either/or.
Who from the House will bring the GOP into the 21st century? Who will highlight integration to pass a comprehensive immigration bill? Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, not exactly the poster child for bipartisanism, supports comprehensive reform. He chooses to expand the GOP base rather than flounder in tired, disconnected rhetoric.
Representatives from Utah should do the same. Stressing immigrant integration will help. Nothing is more American than integrating immigrants. No other legislation presently under debate is in our country's best interest than comprehensive immigration reform.
Bryant Jensen is an assistant professor of education at Brigham Young University and co-editor of "Regarding Educación: Mexican American Schooling, Immigration, and Binational Improvement" store.tcpress.com (Columbia University). His views do not necessarily represent the official views of BYU.
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