The "pathway to citizenship," a key provision of the immigration reform bill designed to bring 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, came under fire today during the Senate markup of the bill.
President Barack Obama and the bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" that wrote the bill under review by the Senate Judiciary Committee both say the pathway must survive for immigration reform to become law.
"If we don't have a path to citizenship, there is no reform, many of us feel. That's a bottom line here," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the Gang of Eight, said today.
However, that notion came under direct attack today by the junior Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, who is often mentioned as a future presidential candidate.
The son of a Cuban immigrant father and Delaware-born mother, Cruz was, himself, born in Canada and made clear today his father came to the United States legally.
Many Hispanics would point out that coming to the U.S. legally is much easier for Cuban immigrants than for other Latinos because of special laws written for them. In fact, any Cuban immigrant who sets a "dry foot" in the U.S. is immediately granted asylum and eventual citizenship, making illegal immigration quite rare and virtually unnecessary.
So for many Latinos watching the immigration proceedings today, it was fascinating to watch Cruz explain why he believed an entirely new category of Americans should be created through immigration reform. It would be a category many describe as "second-class," allowing those working illegally in the United States to stay and work here legally, often doing the jobs others do not want to do in Americans' restaurants and yards, but receiving none of the benefits their fellow Americans get with citizenship. That would mean no vote, no access to government assistance, no Obamacare.
The committee chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., immediately replied, "You cannot have an America where some people come here, work and can't be citizens. ... It presents a sense of disparity, two classes."
Upon hearing the Cruz amendment, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of the Gang of Eight that wrote the immigration reform bill, fired back that the amendment was designed to tell immigrants, "We don't want you. You can't be part of the future of this nation."
Cruz said he doesn't want to kill immigration reform and told Durbin that it was "unfortunate that my friend from Illinois will cast aspersions on my intentions. ... I don't want immigration to fail. I want immigration reform to pass."
Cruz said his focus is not on the 11 million undocumented workers already in the United States.
"Among the amendments that I've introduced are two amendments to expand legal immigration," Cruz said, pointing out that only one passed the committee.
But it was clear that Cruz's idea of immigration reform did not contain a pathway to citizenship and had little chance of passing in the Senate.
His plan for a second-class of Americans without benefit of citizenship was crushed in committee by a vote of 13-5, with the four Gang of Eight members sitting on the committee -- Schumer, Durbin, Jeff Flake, D-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sticking together.