A newly introduced Republican alternative to the Democrat-backed DREAM Act affirms a key disagreement between the two parties: whether young undocumented immigrants should have a chance to become U.S. citizens.
The Studying Towards Residency Status Act, introduced on Wednesday by Rep. David Rivera of Florida, would apply to immigrants who arrived in the United States before they were 16 and remained for at least five years. As with the DREAM Act, the bill is intended to address young people who were brought to the country illegally through no fault of their own.
But Rivera's bill would extend five years of non-immigrant status to eligible immigrants who have earned a high school diploma and been accepted to a four-year college. The DREAM Act would open a path to citizenship for young unauthorized immigrants with clean criminal records who enroll in college or join the military.
The term non-immigrant status encompasses people who are in the United States for a finite period of time, whether to attend school or conduct business, under the assumption that they will return to their home country (many of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States overstayed these types of temporary visas). Immigrant visas, like the coveted green card, confer the right to remain in the United States indefinitely.
The DREAM Act, which passed the House in 2010 only to falter in the Senate, is a rallying point for immigration advocates and enjoys broad support in the Latino community. Despite vowing to veto the bill if he were elected, likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney recently called for a Republican DREAM Act during a speech in which he warned that his party's anemic support amongst Hispanic voters could be fatal in November.
Some Republicans have been doing what Romney suggested. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose name surfaces often as a potential vice presidential pick, has said he plans to introduce a version of the DREAM Act that, like Rivera's bill, would only offer non-immigrant status.
Supporters of the DREAM Act argue that does not go far enough. In their view, it is unjust to deny a chance to remain in the United States to young people who grew up in the country, immersed in American culture and attending American schools. Many of them have only dim memories of their countries of origin and think of the United States as home.
Conversely, for Republicans, the prospect of granting citizenship to unauthorized immigrants is a dealbreaker. They equate the move with amnesty and charge that it would encourage more immigrants to illegally move to the United States. Opponents also warn about chain migration, in which immigrants who gain status through the DREAM Act would be able to legalize family members, although immigrants aided by the DREAM Act would need to wait 10 years to sponsor spouses or minor children and a minimum of 13 years to sponsor parents or siblings.