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Without Immigration Reform, a Poorer, Stupider America

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- You may be wondering why Republicans and Democrats are coming together on immigration policy at a time when the U.S. economy is in flux and the labor situation shows little sign of meaningful improvement.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and President Barack Obama emerged earlier this week with plans to expedite the path to citizenship for the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants who have been living in the country.

"Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It's about people. It's about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story," Obama said Tuesday.

Maybe so, but various economists, sociologists and political analysts can agree that it's a policy issue that may have lasting effects on the economy.

The approaching debate about immigration reform is a massive container for broad-ranging issues, such as education of a rapidly growing group of America's youth, economic mobility, fairer labor competition, investments abroad and political opinions in Massachusetts and South Carolina.

The Path to Citizenship

At the top of the list for the Senate and President Obama is an easier path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who currently live in the United States.

The Senate has proposed that the country beef up its border security and allow illegal immigrants to gain "probationary legal status." Once security requirements have been met, those immigrants with probationary legal status would then be allowed to apply for permanent residency after they learn civics, English and verify employment history.

The president is less focused on the need to beef up security measures as a step toward citizenship. Instead, he would allow "provisional legal status" for those undocumented people who pass a background check. Those who receive provisional legal status could then step in line for permanent residency and apply for citizenship five years after attaining permanent residency.

What About the Children?

"The fact that it does have bipartisan aspects to it this week is positive that there is Senate leadership on the Republican side that is willing to support this fundamental notion of a pathway to citizenship," said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, academic dean at the Harvard Graudate School of Education and author of Immigrants Raising Citizens . "My own work suggests being excluded from that pathway has consequences for the learning of the next generation of America's children."

About one in three children born in the United States of immigrant parents has at least one father or mother who lives here illegally. In other words, there are many immigrant-born citizens who have one or both parents who live here without citizenship and without documentation.

These kids, of course, can attend American schools and receive public education, but the hurdles many of them face begin at home.