What does America with an immigrant underclass actually look like?

Reporting on town a hall meeting in Aurora on Sunday, The Denver Post’s Nic Turiciano did a nice job focusing on what’s emerged as the central issue in the immigration debate: whether to grant a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Turiciano reported that Rep. Jared Polis supports a path to citizenship, with or without beefed up border security, Sen. Michael Bennet said he wants border security and a “real pathway,” and Rep. Mike Coffman said he supports offering citizenship path to children brought to the U.S. illegally, but is still mulling over what to do about the adults.

After voting as recently as 2010 against citizenship for the so-called dreamers, who are children brought to America illegally by their parents, Coffman has now proposed legislation that would grant citizenship to them after they complete basic training for U.S. military duty (not for going to college).

If all the eligible undocumented young people took Coffman up on his proposal, he’d be looking at 1.4 million new recruits, potentially swamping the U.S. military, which currently has about 1.5 million active-duty personnel. So, how does Coffman’s proposal work, logistically?

But even if Coffman comes up with viable path to citizenship, and let’s hope it’s a highway, for undocumented young people, he’s still got to deal with the 9.5 million adults whose citizenship fate he’s mulling over.

Right now, Coffman is ready to give these 9.5 million people legal status, which essentially means he’s giving them the right to taxation without representation. (So you’d hope, that the Tea Party would be dumping their mini-Constitutions all over Coffman’s door matt.)

That’s the next layer of reporting that’s needed on the immigration beat. What does America look like with an underclass of 9.5 million?

It’s not apartheid, to be sure, or Jim Crow. It’s not straight-up slavery or indentured servitude. It’s kind of like the relationship between South Africa and the country of Lesotho post-apartheid, when the Lesotho miners would go to South Africa to live and work. But the closest model might, ironically enough, be the colonists, though it’s an imperfect fit.

In any case, what does a guy like Coffman have in mind? How would it work? What rights and responsibilities of citizenship would be granted? And what rights (voting?) and responsibilities (military service? taxes?) would be denied?

The picture of millions of “legal” immigrants with no voting rights gets ugly, doesn’t it, when you start thinking about it in the context of those pesky American values, like democracy.

Or maybe not? Maybe this is what American opportunity looks like to Coffman (and Tipton, Gardner, and Lamborn, all of whom oppose the path to citizenship). Maybe legal status is good enough.

If so, fair enough. But let’s hear about their vision of what America looks like with an entire class of pseudo-citizens who are fundamentally unequal to the rest of “us.”

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