People attend the "Rally for Citizenship" in support of immigration reform, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) ORG XMIT: DCJM101
Updated: June 8, 2013 6:18AM
As the Senate begins the arduous task of fashioning an immigration reform bill this week, success depends not only on overcoming skepticism, mostly from Republicans, about the bill, but also allaying suspicions about the Obama administration’s commitment to enforcing whatever Congress passes. Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t help that cause when he recently declared illegal immigrants have a civil right — and even a human right — to access to American citizenship.
A human right? If that’s true, the doors are open. Why do we need a new law?
As one who believes the country needs to fix its immigration mess along the principles outlined by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the rest of the Senate Gang of Eight who wrote the legislative blueprint, I find Holder’s remarks, if they represent the views of President Barack Obama, a threat to passage of reform.
Holder told the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, “Creating a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country is absolutely essential. The way we treat our friends and neighbors who are undocumented — by creating a mechanism for them to earn citizenship and move out of the shadows — transcends the issue of immigration status. This is a matter of civil and human rights.”
The Constitution gives Congress the power “to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.” That’s pretty clear — Congress gets to decide who qualifies to become a naturalized citizen. By definition, rules will deny citizenship to some. There is no civil right to a path to citizenship for anyone, let alone a huge group of people who broke the law to enter the country.
Declaring a human right to access to the rights and privileges of being an American goes even further. What would an administration that sees citizenship as a civil and even a human right do with a complex law — the bill is starting out at 800-plus pages — that inevitably will be open to interpretation?
Border security is key to securing passage of the immigration bill. Yet, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that meeting the bill’s security standard of “90 percent effectiveness” would require knowing the unknowable — how many people are coming undetected. Trust for the administration to do the right thing is fundamental to passage. Do Napolitano and Holder inspire trust? No.
A humane immigration policy allows for reunification of the nuclear family — spouses and minor children. An out-of-control system permits chain immigration where extended family members are brought in even if they don’t contribute to the economy or take from it by cashing in on government benefits. The Gang of Eight recognized this abuse and has provisions to rein it in, such as ending the ability of naturalized citizens to sponsor siblings.
Yet, in a speech in Mexico, Obama said the immigration system “separates families when we should be reuniting them.” Does that inspire trust that the administration is focused on economically beneficial immigration? No.
It’s practically an article of faith in Washington that the best thing Obama can do to advance immigration reform is to stay out of it. Yet, he, Holder and Napolitano say things that raise red flags.
Speculation that Obama would rather have immigration as a political issue than a law has yielded to conjecture that it might be his only chance for a second-term signature achievement. If that’s true, Obama must show he’s committed to reform. His chief law enforcement officer calling a path to citizenship a civil and human right doesn’t advance that cause.