Three Republican senators have introduced an immigration bill that grants a 15-year pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. It also prevents those immigrants from sponsoring their family members for legalization.
Under the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers Employment Education and Defending our nation (or SUCCEED) Act — coauthored by Republican Sens. James Lankford (OK), Thom Tillis (NC), and Orrin Hatch (UT) — undocumented immigrants would be allowed to get on an eventual pathway to citizenship if they fulfill several years of criteria. For its most basic qualification, applicants must have arrived in the country before the age of 16 and before June 15, 2012.
“These are kids who literally do not have a home anywhere,” Lankford said during the press conference announcing the bill on Monday.
That June 2012 date is significant because it marks the start of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, an Obama-era executive action that granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization in two-year increments. On September 5, President Donald Trump pulled the plug on DACA, calling on Congress to find a permanent fix for these beneficiaries so that they can legally remain in the country. Under the White House’s rescission announcement, more than 150,000 people whose employment authorization cards expire before March 5, 2018 must renew their current status one last time by October 5, 2017.
The SUCCEED Act would require applicants to be “consistently” employed 48 out of 60 months, earn a college degree, or serve in the military, while working their way into a conditional permanent residence status. That status would be renewed after five years, during which time they can apply for a formal formal green card, Politico first reported. After that, they can apply to become U.S. citizens, which would take another five years. In total, it would take applicants 15 years to become a citizen. The proposal would prevent immigrants from “chain migration,” a pejorative term to describe immigrants who are able to sponsor family members to legally stay in the United States.
The bill is a far more restrictive version of the DREAM Act, a federal bill annually introduced since 2001 by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), that would grant a pathway to citizenship in a fewer number of years. In a scenario where the SUCCEED Act passes as federal law, that would mean that DACA recipients — whose average age is currently 25 years old — would be 40 years old by the time they become Americans with full rights. There are various avenues to become a citizen in this country, but it generally takes legal immigrants anywhere between three and five years to undergo the citizenship process.
The SUCCEED Act has President Donald Trump’s approval, Lankford said, insisting that the bill “can’t be a standalone,” meaning that the bill would have to be a part of a larger immigration reform package. Tillis added that there should be border security components to that plan.
“The president was very outspoken,” Lankford said at the press conference, indicating that the president hadn’t seen the text of the SUCCEED Act, but felt that the principles of the bill were aligned with “exactly the kind of solution that would work.”
Tillis explained that including a 15-year citizenship provision was in part intentional because “this goes to the prevention component” of potentially having more people cross the border to apply for citizenship. He also criticized the DREAM Act because it “has failed every single time.”
Lankford indicated that the SUCCEED Act is a compassionate bill and said that these individuals are “currently a part of our economy” and that “it hurts us to put those individuals out of the economy.”
Although the Republican senators framed the bill on the principles of: “compassion, prevention, merit, and fairness,” immigrant advocates were horrified by the bill’s restrictions.
“The Succeed Act introduced today is more of the same: another bill brought forward by Republicans that continues to criminalize immigrant communities,” Kica Matos, spokesperson for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), said in a statement. “The bill calls for the extreme vetting of immigrants, and restricts family reunification and legal migration. We’ve seen this all before and we’re not going to stand for it. We demand that a clean Dream Act is brought to the floor for a vote.”
“It excludes the oldest Dreamers—those who have lived here the longest—from the program entirely,” Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the immigrant rights America’s Voice Education Fund, said in a statement. “It makes it difficult for Dreamers to sponsor their loved ones under the legal immigration system. And it requires Dreamers to sign away future legal rights by forcing them to sign a voluntary deportation order subjecting them to automatic removal if they violate certain terms of their status.”