JEFFERSON, LA — One reason Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) opposes the Senate’s bipartisan answer to immigration reform is because he insists it would force immigrants to become unwilling citizens of the U.S.
“There are a lot of people who come here, just want to work and go back home and not be a legal citizen that the Senate bill would actually force onto an amnesty track,” Scalise told ThinkProgress after a town hall in his district Friday. “If you look at the 1986 law, 40 percent that were eligible for amnesty chose not to go that route because they just wanted to work and go back home. And yet the Senate bill would force them to become American citizens and that’s not even what they want.”
He proposed that the country strengthen immigration enforcement and secure its borders instead. But contrary to what Scalise suggested, at no point are the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants automatically enrolled or forced to become citizens. In fact, the bill’s path to earned citizenship is a rather difficult one.
Under the comprehensive immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate, unauthorized residents can only gain citizenship over a minimum 13 years, after a multi-step process that first grants probationary legal status and later permanent legal status. Then, they must meet a long list of criteria for earned citizenship, including paying back taxes and fees, background checks, and a working knowledge of English. An analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 8 million of the approximately 11 million unauthorized residents “would initially gain legal status under the bill.”
With the unmet promise of immigration reform still hanging over the House of Representatives, it is convenient now to argue that the undocumented themselves do not want a path to citizenship. Last year, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) both claimed immigrants have little interest in the idea.