PRESIDENT OBAMA wants the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants to be simple and direct. Yet the likely vehicle for any immigration reform will be the bipartisan framework produced by eight senators in January, and the path to citizenship it offers will be neither simple nor direct. The undocumented will be required, through lengthy, sometimes confusing procedures, not only to demonstrate their seriousness about becoming Americans but also to atone for having lived here illegally.
Such requirements are necessary to placate outraged Americans. But as a path to citizenship, they will be counterproductive. If anything, these requirements threaten to reinforce the ambivalence and indecision many undocumented immigrants demonstrate about remaining here. Sending them into procedural limbo is not the way to integrate them into American society. Counterintuitive though it may sound, a far better response would be to grant these immigrants status as “permanent non-citizen residents” with no option of ever naturalizing.