Utah Congressmen May Consider a Path to Citizenship for the Undocumented

Sep 12, 2013

As Congress considers pressing issues like Syria, the debt limit, and the Affordable Care Act, there is some question whether the House will pass immigration legislation before the end of the year.  After the Senate passed a landmark comprehensive bill in June, the House is under pressure to respond. Utah’s congressional delegation came home and talked with many of their constituents about the issue over the summer, but it’s still an open question how the state’s representatives will address undocumented immigrants.

Speaking before a recent town hall in Salt Lake City, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart was optimistic that the House would pass immigration legislation.

“I dearly hope that the House will move. We’re doing a slightly different approach. We’re doing four or five bills rather than one comprehensive bill, but I think there is bipartisan support for moving immigration bills this fall, and I hope we’ll be able to do that,” Stewart says.

There may be bipartisan support, but Democrat Representative Jim Matheson says it’s not a bipartisan process. He says House leadership has announced that they will not bring a bill to the floor unless a majority of Republicans support it.

“Unlike in the Senate where there was a bipartisan effort, in the House of Representatives, it seems to be taking on more of a partisan agenda, and the majority party is going to go it alone. I don’t think that’s a recipe for success,” Matheson says.

The bills that have so far passed out of House committees deal with issues like border security, work visas, high skilled workers, and e-verify. But it remains to be seen how the House will address more than 11 million undocumented people. Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz has previously said he opposes any path to citizenship for those who arrive here illegally, but his views seem to have shifted.

"There has to be a legal, lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t." - Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-District 3)

“There should be a pathway to citizenship, not a special pathway, and not no pathway,” Chaffetz told ABC 4 Utah at a town hall in Holladay. “There has to be a legal lawful way to go through this process that works, and right now it doesn’t.”

Chris Stewart said at his Salt Lake City town hall that he agreed with Chaffetz, that those who are here illegally should pay a price but should have some kind of legal status. Tony Yapias of Proyecto Latino de Utah says this is a significant change.

“That is probably the best news that we’ve heard. To hear everyone say that they’re somehow aligning themselves, that we need to do something about it. I commend them for taking that action,” Yapias says. Though it’s not clear to Yapias what Republicans mean when they refer to a “special pathway” to citizenship.

“Somehow there’s been this misperception out there, or somebody decided that we’re going to say they’re getting some special treatment here, and they’re going to get citizenship as soon as they apply. That’s not the fact,” Yapias says.

The bill passed by the Democratic-led Senate would grant an expedited path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants. Otherwise most eligible immigrants would be routed through an earned pathway that would take at least 13 years.

A spokesperson for Republican Representative Rob Bishop told KUER that the congressman does not support the Senate bill, but that he would not say whether he supports a path to citizenship because the terms are so ill-defined.  Congressman Matheson says he would support it, so long as it ensures fairness. But, he too, says the policy needs to be defined first.

“I think you’ve got to look at specific legislation to see what they’re talking about. Ultimately that is what matters - how the bill is actually written, and we’re all going to have to assess that when we see a bill,” Matheson says.

House leadership has put immigration on the agenda for the fall, but it remains to be seen when it will come to the floor for consideration.