Much of the immigration reform debate over the coming weeks will center on a few key components—phrases you’ve likely heard countless times, such as a “pathway to citizenship.” But those phrases can often be hollow and mean little for the people to whom the bill will actually apply. It’s in the details that real immigration reform will either live or die. And so far, those details remain relatively unknown.
Take English language proficiency as an example. Most proposals would require some level of English proficiency in order to qualify for naturalization. But as the Migration Policy Institute found in a 2011 report, even seemingly small differences in the level of English proficiency required for naturalization could determine whether millions of people qualify or are left out.
A test requiring Level 3 English proficiency on the National Reporting System for Adult Education, for example, would screen out 35% of undocumented immigrants. A test requiring Level 4 proficiency would screen out 56% of undocumented immigrants. As the Migration Policy Institute wrote in its report: “Language requirements, depending on how they are structured, could exclude the largest number of unauthorized immigrants.”
So even though you’re likely to hear the phrase “pathway to citizenship” often, it’s really the details that matter most. Those details will determine whether millions of undocumented immigrants have the chance to become citizens, or will continue to live in the shadows.