From the Square: Children of undocumented immigrants deserve pathway to citizenship

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by The Washington Square News. It has been reprinted with permission as a part of an ongoing ...

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by The Washington Square News. It has been reprinted with permission as a part of an ongoing collaboration between WSN and The Gazelle to connect our two campuses.
A seemingly benign question baffles about 1.7 million young people who, as children, were brought to the United States by their parents without legal permission — what does it mean to be American? These individuals have grown up in America, identify as Americans and consider America to be their only home. Yet, they are defined as illegals under current immigration policies and barred from employment, military enrollment and federal benefits.
Passing a bill for comprehensive immigration reform would allow qualifying youths to seek a pathway to citizenship. After a prolonged dispute, Democrats and Republicans have made tremendous strides toward bipartisan action. The opposition from right-wing activists, however, is strong. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research and policy group, criticized plans for amnesty and claimed reform would harm the public benefits system. Similarly, Tea Party Patriots has demanded that Republican House Speaker John Boehner be fired for his cooperation in addressing immigration reform. Boehner has since said that a bill is unlikely to pass in 2014.
Reform would benefit the American economy. Congressional Budget Office reports show that legalizing the qualification of young workers would boost the productivity of the current workforce. It estimated that a reform bill would increase real GDP 3.3 percent by 2023.
Moreover, granting legal status to undocumented immigrants would significantly increase local tax incomes. According to a Chamber of Commerce report, households headed by undocumented immigrants contributed $10.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010. Estimates demonstrate that granting legal status to undocumented immigrants would increase gross tax payments by $2.6 billion.
Indeed, the reform bill should not grant amnesty indiscriminately. As GOP leaders wrote in their statement of principles on immigration, giving citizenship to individuals who broke the nation’s immigration laws would be detrimental to promoting the rule of law. Still, it is one of America’s founding principles that children should not be punished for the transgressions of their parents. In keeping with this belief, the children of undocumented immigrants should not be punished for their parents’ illegal actions. Congress should at least give them a fair chance to pursue their dreams without fear of deportation.
In spite of high tension on the matter, our representatives must realize that immigration reform aims to protect hardworking, young individuals who wish to become American citizens. In the recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that achieving success in America should not be contingent on “accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.” The time has come for Congress to stand by this declaration.
Kenny Kyunghoon Lee is a contributing columnist at the Washington Square News. Email him at
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