Many Texans who are observing the immigration debate from afar may believe that the central issue is simple to determine. Would you believe that citizenship is not the most critical factor in the growing immigration debate? Illegal immigrants throughout the nation are increasingly saying that they are content to remain in the country legally without ever obtaining citizenship, a move that surprises some legislators and may lead to an entirely different path for immigration reform.
For many, citizenship is seen as an optional benefit, as other vulnerabilities are more pressing in their everyday life. An example: Illegal immigrants cannot pursue a driver's license in most states. They are also limited because they cannot easily leave the country to visit their family members in other nations, and finding work is an increasing challenge because of immigration crackdowns. Immigrants who were interviewed in a recent phone study said that they would be willing to sacrifice dreams of citizenship if they could just drive and work legally through permanent residency or another type of program.
Still, most immigrant rights groups are demanding full equality for their constituents, adamantly demanding a full path to citizenship instead of this short-term middle ground. A new bill proposed by the Senate would get those groups what they want - a path to citizenship - but it would be so long and arduous that few would be likely to obtain the status. Those reforms would require immigrants to pay back taxes, pass English tests and then be waitlisted behind others who had legally entered the nation.
The debate about citizenship, therefore, is being waged on two fronts: in the national legislature and within the immigrant community itself. Those who are content with permanent residency instead of citizenship have a growing voice, however, which could cause a shift in perspective for millions of Texas residents and lead to legal changes that would actually provide solutions to immigrants' needs.
Source: www.nytimes.com, "Illegal immigrants are divided over importance of citizenship" Julia Preston, Nov. 20, 2013