WASHINGTON – Under political pressure to take action on immigration reform, three Republican senators introduced an alternative version of the Dream Act on Tuesday that would give legal status for young immigrants brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children.
The effort, called the Achieve Act and launched by retiring senators Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and supported by Arizona Sen. John McCain, appears to be a push to take some of the heat off of Republicans on immigration.
But Senate Democrats, in an effort to hold their feet to the fire, won’t let the bill come to a vote during the lame-duck session.
Exit polls from the election showed widespread disenchantment with the GOP among Latino voters. Some Republicans, including McCain, have indicated in recent weeks that they would be willing to discuss a more “comprehensive” package of immigration bills.
But Hutchison said she felt it would be better to tackle small pieces of immigration reform one at a time because getting all sides to agree on a large package has proved to be too difficult in the past.
Fewer young immigrants would qualify for the proposal than would have been eligible under earlier versions of the Dream Act. Unlike the Dream Act, the bill would not guarantee a pathway to citizenship.
Under the Republican proposal, applicants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 14 could apply for student visas if they are younger than 29 and currently enrolled in a college degree program in the U.S. Applicants younger than 32 would qualify if they already hold a degree from an American college.
After graduation, applicants could apply for work visas that would be renewable every four years for the rest of their lives and would not prevent them from getting in line for a green card and, eventually, applying for citizenship.
Hutchison said the bill is an attempt to “get the ball rolling” to create a permanent, legal solution for young immigrants brought here by their parents.
“We think the best thing that we can do to utilize their talents and the education they have received is to give them a legal status,” Hutchison said during a news conference in the Capitol.
Both senators acknowledged that the bill would probably not pass before the end of the year.
Some of the young immigrants who currently qualify for the Obama administration’s deferred action program that began in August would not be eligible for the Republican proposal, including students enrolled in high school or with a high school diploma.
But Kyl said the bill would address what he sees as an abuse of executive authority by the White House. President Barack Obama was “taking the law into his own hands” and “violating the oath of office” when he launched the deferred action program, Kyl said.
“If you don’t like the law, change it. Don’t violate it,” he said.