There is a growing number of Republicans who are willing to join Democrats to grant citizenship to children brought to the U.S. by illegal immigrants. But it became increasingly clear during a House subcommittee Tuesday that there remains a stark difference over extending that same privilege to the parents.
While no legislation was on the table yet, a House Judiciary subcommittee took up the underlying components of the KIDS Act, a Republican rewrite of the DREAM Act that addresses the children of undocumented workers living in the country. Republicans, some of whom previously opposed the Democratic DREAM Act, now insist children should be addressed separately than other illegal immigrants.
“We all view children as a special, protected class,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. “Children and the issues that impact their lives unite us like nothing else. And because children are a special class, the law treats children differently in almost every regard.”
However, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, warned that providing citizenship to these individuals will lead to “back-door amnesty” for their parents.
“If you legalize people that are here in this country unlawfully and you waive the application — even if there were children — and you waive the application of the law on their parents especially — if they’re the ones that brought them to commit this act, then who do you enforce the law against?” King asked.
While King speaks as an staunch skeptic of immigration reform efforts, his concerns are echoed by many in the GOP. House Republicans don’t want to address all 11 million undocumented individuals as one group, but provide separate solutions and statuses for illegal immigrants that have reached the U.S. under different circumstances.
Though Democrats and immigration reform advocates appreciated that Republicans are making some concessions for children, a pathway to citizenship for parents — and most illegals — remains a priority.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chairs the Judiciary committee and has been a key player in the House immigration debate, asked a D.C. resident testifying Tuesday whether her parents, now living in Columbia, would want their children to gain citizenship if they could not.
The resident, Pamela Rivera said her parents probably would. Goodlatte followed up by asking if Rivera would want her mother in the U.S. under a legal status that did not result in citizenship.
“Knowing my family, knowing my mom, she wants to be a part of this country,” Rivera said. “She wants the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with that. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be ok with that.”
Democrats contend that allowing children to gain citizenship but not their parents creates multiple classes of U.S. residents.
“When you’re pitting sons and daughters against mom and dads, you’re creating a system that is not healthy,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.
But Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho., noted that there are many legal immigrants living in the U.S. who are not granted a preferred pathway to citizenship.
“There people who are here legally that don’t become citizens of the United States and they have children here,” said Labrador. “I want to find a solution for this problem. I want us to treat everybody fairly. But the most important thing for me is the rule of law.”