Two Republican U.S. Senators who are leaving Congress introduced legislation today intended to give young “Dreamers” a chance to legally stay in this country, but without an automatic path to citizenship. The “Achieve Act” proposes that young undocumented immigrants who were brought here before age 14 and are 28 years old or less (or less than 32 years old with a U.S. bachelor’s degree) can obtain study or military visas, which could later be upgraded for work purposes and eventually lead to permanent (non-immigrant) visas.
“This is a time-sensitive issue for young people who have gone to schools in America and know no other country, and they want to go to college and be part of our system,” said Texas Senator Bailey Hutchinson.
By trying to address a way to give Dreamers a chance to study and work, said Senator Kyl. “We are introducing legislation not dissimilar from the president’s, but in the right way,” he said at the press conference in Washington, D.C. Senator Kyl took a jab at President Obama’s deferred deportation policy, saying Obama had taken the law “into his own hands” through his policy directive.
While the Achieve Act does not put young undocumented immigrants “in the front of the line” for a citizenship track, the Senators said it does not preclude Dreamers from applying for citizenship or green cards. Senator Kyl also said many of these Dreamers might marry U.S. citizens at some point, or perhaps be able to obtain sponsorship through employment. The proposed legislation would not allow Dreamers to qualify for public welfare, federal student loans, or benefits.
Latino Democratic legislators say the fact this legislation does not include a path to citizenship makes this a non-starter.
“Citizenship is the bedrock of our immigration system,” says Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez. Saying anything that happens in the lame-duck session is a “pre-game warmup to the real immigration debate,” Gutierrez says he just attended a citizenship ceremony this morning in Chicago, and “I will not support immigration reform that falls short of citizenship, and neither will the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or the American people.”
“Republicans must embrace an earned path to citizenship if they want to address the Republican party’s issues with the Latino electorate — and this bill doesn’t achieve that goal,” says New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.
At the press conference, the Republican co-sponsors of the Achieve Act legislation mentioned Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio several times, saying he had given them valuable input. Alex Conant, press secretary for Senator Rubio, says the Florida Latino Senator supports the general idea behind the Achieve Act legislation, but Senator Rubio has plans of his own.
“Senator Rubio is still developing his own alternative to the Dream Act,” says Conant, “and he intends to introduce it in the new Congress, once he is confident it will win broad bipartisan support and be signed into law,” he adds.
For their part, the two outgoing Republican senators who brought the legislation to the table today said that starting with one aspect, in this case young undocumented adults, is part of the “art of compromise” — in Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s words — “on a difficult issue like this.”
But Katherine Vargas, communications director for the National Immigration Forum, says that without specifically discussing the details of the Achieve Act proposed legislation, “it’s good to see Republicans come to the table on issues of immigration, and it helps keep the debate alive,” she says. Vargas believes, however, that “we need a broad push that addresses the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently here,” and that Congress would be “tone-deaf” to not see this is the mandate from so many Latino voters in the recent election.
One thing is certain, though, immigration is a topic of discussion in Washington D.C. Tomorrow the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has a press conference on immigration reform, and the House is expected to vote on legislation to expand certain visas for science and technology students, as well as simplify the residency process for green card holders’ family members.