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 (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and supported by Arizona senator John McCain, appears to be a push to take some of the heat off of Republicans on immigration.
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 is 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,” said Hutchison 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 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.
The Achieve Act is similar to an idea for an alternative Dream Act floated by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio this year. Rubio was involved in drafting the current bill, said Kyl, but decided not to sign on until he had consulted with a wider range of groups.
Rubio, who is widely seen as having presidential ambitions, could be an important player in negotiating a possible comprehensive immigration reform bill next year.
Walking back to his office in the halls of the Capitol, Kyl acknowledged that there is more enthusiasm for passing new immigration laws than there has been in the last two years.
“It is apparent that we need to get the issue dealt with,” Kyl said.