Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Path to citizenship should be a long hike

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
February 8, 2013 -- Updated 1924 GMT (0324 HKT)
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
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT