07/24/2013 12:59 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2013

What About the Guy on the Roof?

Maybe an undocumented immigrant lives next door. Or there's one working on your roof. Or another lying nearby on the beach.

My kids go to school with undocumented immigrants. They play on the same soccer teams. We bump into their parents at the grocery store and the rec center.

Congress is debating whether these people, who number over 11 million in our country, should be granted a "path to citizenship" as part of overarching legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system.

Everyone agrees that America's immigration system needs fixing. The sticking point is whether immigrants should eventually be able to earn the right to be called Americans. My own interred Italian undocumented-immigrant in-laws eventually became citizens. Why not these guys?

Republicans in the House of Representatives want to pass a bill without a path to citizenship. They want to focus on border security first and possibly citizenship later. It could wind up being citizenship never.

Lost in the media coverage of this debate is what life would look like for immigrants if America doesn't offer citizenship to the immigrants who've become part of our country.

Some Republicans want to grant work permits to undocumented immigrants, while the immigration debate goes on. This would bring our immigrant neighbors out of the shadows, but not as equal partners.

We'd create a working underclass that, as President Obama told Telemundo Denver last week, would create a country of "full citizens and people who are assigned to a lower status." This isn't "who we are as Americans," he said.

Republicans like Rep. Cory Gardner of Ft. Collins, who oppose a path to citizenship, aren't forced to explain how their alternative comports with American values.

Gardner told The Denver Post Tuesday:

"We have to focus on border security first and enforcement of the law, and then we can move onto questions about citizenship. There is no bill right now, so let's start with the border and then go from there."

This treats millions of hard-working people in America more like slaves or 17th-century indentured servants than anything else, but that's just my opinion.

Maybe this is what American opportunity looks like for Republicans. Sit tight; we'll get back to you, they're saying.

Journalists who are reporting on the House Republicans who oppose a path to citizenship should flip their perspective and also report that GOP opponents favor the creation of an underclass of American workers.

Let's hear more from reporters about the GOP vision of what America looks like with a class of people who are fundamentally unequal to the rest of us.

A version of this op-ed was distributed by the Other Words syndicate.