Parent Sponsorship Stalls Kids Act

 Attendees hold signs calling for immigration reform during a rally in support of immigration reform, in Washington, on October 8, 2013.
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
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Fawn Johnson
Nov. 3, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

The House Re­pub­lic­ans’ Kids Act — a path to cit­izen­ship for un­doc­u­mented youth brought here as chil­dren — has hit a stum­bling block over wheth­er those “kids” would be able to spon­sor their un­doc­u­mented par­ents for green cards after they be­come cit­izens them­selves, ac­cord­ing to people close to the ne­go­ti­ations. How the GOP spon­sors, led by House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, come down on the ques­tion could af­fect wheth­er the le­gis­la­tion is taken ser­i­ously by Demo­crats and the im­mig­rant com­munity.

The Kids Act is viewed by many law­makers in­volved in im­mig­ra­tion talks as the ful­crum on which the en­tire House ne­go­ti­ation turns. The bill ad­dresses the dicey ques­tion of leg­al­iz­a­tion for at least one group of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, and it has Re­pub­lic­an sup­port from rank-and-file mem­bers and party lead­ers. The Kids Act, com­bined with a bor­der se­cur­ity/en­force­ment meas­ure and a nar­row work-visa pro­pos­al, could form the three pil­lars of an im­mig­ra­tion pack­age that would sig­nal to Latino voters in par­tic­u­lar that House Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t ig­nor­ing the is­sue.

The prob­lem comes when law­makers start ask­ing what hap­pens to the chil­dren who even­tu­ally be­come cit­izens un­der the bill. Un­der cur­rent law, they would be al­lowed to spon­sor fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing par­ents, for green cards. That wor­ries some Re­pub­lic­ans who have long ques­tioned the util­ity of fam­ily-based im­mig­ra­tion in the United States. It also is of con­cern to any mem­ber who jus­ti­fies sup­port by say­ing that un­au­thor­ized im­mig­rants brought here as chil­dren were not at fault, their par­ents were.

Demo­crats are angered by this line of reas­on­ing, point­ing out that Re­pub­lic­ans re­peatedly say they sup­port a path to cit­izen­ship for people without pa­pers if those people be­come cit­izens us­ing ex­ist­ing law. Yet they would be chan­ging ex­ist­ing law by in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion in the Kids Act that bars these par­tic­u­lar cit­izens from spon­sor­ing their fam­ily mem­bers. What’s more, ad­voc­ates say the pro­vi­sion would co­di­fy a ba­sic un­fair­ness in­to the concept of cit­izen­ship. Some cit­izens — i.e., the “kids” — would have few­er rights than oth­ers.

Some Demo­crats and im­mig­rant-ad­vocacy groups have privately told Re­pub­lic­ans that they would hap­pily sup­port Can­tor’s le­gis­la­tion if it did not touch cit­izen­ship rules. Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez, D-Ill., a lead­er in the bi­par­tis­an ef­forts to pass im­mig­ra­tion over­haul in the House, is watch­ing the back-and-forth on the Kids Act care­fully, hop­ing that it could jump-start a stalled con­ver­sa­tion on im­mig­ra­tion. But even for Gu­ti­er­rez, tinker­ing with ex­ist­ing cit­izen-spon­sor­ship rights is a deal break­er. “The con­gress­man would sup­port the Kids Act if it is ser­i­ous and the re­form ele­ments are good enough and doesn’t con­tain pois­on pills, like a pro­hib­i­tion on cit­izens spon­sor­ing fam­ily mem­bers for leg­al im­mig­ra­tion,” his spokes­man, Douglas Rivlin, said in a state­ment.

A Kids Act that is sup­por­ted only by Re­pub­lic­ans would sig­nal that bi­par­tis­an ne­go­ti­ations on im­mig­ra­tion are es­sen­tially over for the cur­rent Con­gress. It is the only House bill be­ing worked on by Re­pub­lic­ans that ad­dresses Demo­crats’ core is­sue on im­mig­ra­tion, the status of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants. Without it, it’s hard to see any­thing hap­pen­ing.

The bi­par­tis­an op­por­tun­it­ies for im­mig­ra­tion re­form are break­ing down any­way, but a few law­makers on both sides of the aisle don’t want to slam the door com­pletely. Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, D-Cal­if., is one of them. She de­clined un­til last week to co­spon­sor House Demo­crats’ broad im­mig­ra­tion bill mir­ror­ing a Sen­ate-passed meas­ure be­cause she wanted to keep open the pos­sib­il­ity of bi­par­tis­an ne­go­ti­ations.

She says the Demo­crat-sponsored bill won’t make a “ma­ter­i­al dif­fer­ence” in the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate. The bill is widely viewed as Demo­crats’ polit­ic­al tool to pres­sure Re­pub­lic­ans on im­mig­ra­tion. That nar­rat­ive was put in­to sharp­er fo­cus when the bill was un­veiled by the fig­ure who is least trust­worthy to House Re­pub­lic­ans, House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi.

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