The National Immigrant Youth Alliance marches past the Hart Senate Office Building on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The group held a graduation ceremony for undocumented youth near the Supreme Court, followed by the march, in response to the court's ruling on Arizona's SB1070 "papers please" law, and to call for passage of the Dream Act in Congress. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The National Immigrant Youth Alliance marches past the Hart Senate Office Building on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The group held a graduation ceremony for undocumented youth near the Supreme Court, followed by the march, in response to the court’s ruling on Arizona’s SB1070 “papers please” law, and to call for passage of the Dream Act in Congress. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Opinion: Dream Act or Achieve Act, which one will it be?

The Dream Act lives!  Or does it?  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently told reporters that he is working on a new version of the proposal.  His plan would allow undocumented immigrants brought here as children to earn legal residency.  However, there would be no guarantee of citizenship.  Rubio’s plan mirrors the Achieve Act being devised by retiring Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

Unfortunately, this may be the rare instance where it is better to “dream” than to “achieve.”  The Achieve Act is an inadequate imitation of the Dream Act.  It creates no sure pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth, while saddling them with additional eligibility requirements.  If Republicans are serious about immigration reform, they should dump this half-baked alternative to the real deal.

Let’s review a few differences between the two measures.  The Dream Act would allow undocumented youth to apply for legal residency and citizenship, provided they either complete college or serve in the military.  They had to have been under age 16 at the time they were brought to the U.S., and currently younger than 30.  The Achieve Act limits eligibility to those who were brought before they were 14 and who are currently younger than 28.  For those who qualify, citizenship “could follow.” 

These stricter eligibility requirements are unfair.  The last version of the Dream Act, which died in the Senate in 2010, was already watered down (in the 2009 version, the current age limit was 35).  And the Achieve Act still leaves millions of young people with an uncertain future.  Although they could live and work openly, the “dream” has always been full citizenship.

The Dream Act requires beneficiaries to pass a background check.  The Achieve Act requires a background check and that beneficiaries check in every 6 months with the Department of Homeland Security.  That sounds like probation, which runs counter to the intent of the Dream Act – that we should not punish children for the actions of their parents. The Achieve Act also adds a requirement that applicants have a working knowledge of English, American history, and the principles of U.S. government.  How many native-born Americans could pass a test on the principles of our government?

Under the Achieve Act, beneficiaries would have to wait longer to be eligible for permanent residency.  Apparently, this is to appease Republican concerns about “chain migration,” whereby one person with lawful status sponsors other family members to come to the U.S.  You know, like Marco Rubio’s aunt did for his parents in 1956.  One practical result of the Achieve Act is that we would have a long-term, growing class of “in-between” residents, who were neither illegal nor full citizens.  Consider that 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year.

True, Rubio’s version of the Dream Act is not final.  His spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times that he “is still developing his legislation and hasn’t made any decisions on when to introduce it.”  Still, the fact that he is floating an alternative to the Dream Act should be a call to action.  The Democrats won the election, and with it the right to set the original Dream Act as the starting point for our immigration debate.

A majority of Americans favor a path to citizenship for the undocumented; the Achieve Act does not deliver this.  The Achieve Act is a misguided compromise that is unlikely to please either immigration restrictionists or immigrant advocates. It is narrow, punitive, and imposes needless hurdles on beneficiaries.  The Dream Act remains the best way to help undocumented youth fulfill their potential in the only country they call home.

Opinion: Dream Act or Achieve Act, which one will it be? raulreyescrop politics NBC Latino News

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.

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