Republicans Introduce Latest DREAM Act Alternative

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Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz)
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz)

A trio of Republican senators has released legislation that would extend legal status to some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. The Achieve Act represents a more Republican-friendly version of the DREAM Act, a bill also designed to address the United States’ substantial population of young undocumented immigrants. A top priority for immigration advocates, the DREAM Act made it out of the House of Representatives in 2010 but faltered amid Republican opposition in the Senate.

That was then. Now, sifting through the aftermath of an election in which the country’s surging Latino population helped propel President Obama to a second term, Republicans are reassessing their prospects. Several prominent party members have called for immigration reform, warning that demographic trends risk leaving Republicans behind.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona was one of them, saying the party needs a “bigger tent” and adding that “obviously we have to do immigration reform.” McCain sponsored the Achieve Act along with outgoing senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Kyl called the bill a “logical place to begin” the process of overhauling the nation’s immigration system. It would create a three-step visa process towards permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants who are younger than 28, arrived in the country before they were 14, and complete college or military service and work for at least four years.

While the legislation would allow qualified young immigrants to obtain legal status, it differs from the DREAM Act in one key respect: It does not open a path to citizenship.

That could make the bill more palatable for Republicans who warned that the DREAM Act would set off a “chain migration” in which immigrants granted citizenship bring over their relatives. It could also mollify critics who say the DREAM Act would incentivize illegal immigration by giving a shortcut to immigrants who circumvented the legal process.

"It doesn't allow [immigrants] to cut in line in front of people who have come and abided by the rules of our laws today," Hutchison said. "It doesn't keep them from applying under the rules today, but it doesn't give them a special preference."

Sen. Marco Rubio floated a similar bill last year, and Kyl and Hutchison said Rubio would likely lead the push for the Achieve Act.

"We've worked with him for the last six months and he's had very constructive input into it,” Hutchison said of Rubio. “We have incorporated many of his ideas. We hope he will take the ball next year and lead the effort."

President Obama has rolled out a policy that allows young undocumented immigrants to apply for reprieves from deportation and work permits. But the president has stressed that the move is a temporary fix, not a substitute for legislation that offers a route to permanent legal status.

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