Why The GOP’s DREAM Act Alternative Falls Short Of Real Immigration Reform

Following a presidential election in which Latino voters overwhelmingly voted to re-elect President Obama, lawmakers have had a renewed interest in reaching a comprehensive immigration plan. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he is “confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all,” and even conservative radio host Sean Hannity said he now supports a “pathway to citizenship.”

The Daily Caller published early details of the GOP’s proposal: the ACHIEVE Act, a GOP-backed alternative to the DREAM Act that Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) office says is based on “a working draft of what Sen. Rubio began working on over the summer.” Rubio had floated the idea of a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act last spring but dropped his plan after Obama announced his directive to provide deportation deferrals for young undocumented immigrants.

The ACHIEVE Act that is reportedly being floated by congressional Republicans is little more than a watered-down version of the 10-year-old DREAM Act without a clear path to citizenship:

Essentially, the proposal involves several tiers: W-1 visa status would allow an immigrant to attend college or serve in the military (they have six years to get a degree). After doing so, they would be eligible to apply for a four-year nonimmigrant work visa (also can be used for graduate degrees.)

Next, applicants would be eligible to apply for a permanent visa (no welfare benefits.) Finally, after a set number of years, citizenship “could follow…”

This complicated measure would add several more hoops that undocumented immigrants would have to jump through before they could possibly qualify for citizenship in an undetermined number of years rather than providing a straightforward plan to help the largest number of DREAMers. Each year, about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school in the U.S. with uncertain futures because of their legal status, and Rubio’s proposal would do little to offer them certainty.

Even though Rubio said Thursday that he thinks Congress first should pass some version of the DREAM Act to help young undocumented immigrants who want to go to college or serve in the military before considering comprehensive, a wide majority of Americans say they want Congress to come up with an immigration reform plan that includes a clear path to citizenship. The ACHIEVE Act would not accomplish this.

Instead of debating weaker versions of the DREAM Act that would limit the number of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Republicans would support the original bipartisan DREAM Act plan if they were serious about offering a path to citizenship for undocumented students. The immigration measure could add $329 billion and 1.4 million jobs to the U.S. economy by 2030.

But even better than the DREAM Act, though, would be for Congress to craft an immigration reform measure that would offer a path to citizenship that includes all undocumented immigrants, not a small portion of the population.