A few weeks ago, Daniela Pelaez visited Washington. A valedictorian at North Miami Senior High, the 18-year-old had just learned she no longer faced deportation, thanks in part to congressional intervention in her immigration case.
She visited the nations capital the same week a Fox News Latino poll found Hispanic voters favor President Barack Obama six-to-one over any of the Republican presidential hopefuls. Suddenly, there was new life in the DREAM Act, an immigration bill that offers a path toward citizenship for young people like Daniela who came to the U.S. illegally with their parents.
Enter Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has cautioned his party on its stance on immigration, even as hes considered one of the few Republicans who, with the No. 2 spot on the presidential ticket, could help draw Hispanics to the GOP.
Rubio now is floating a Republican version of the DREAM Act. Its still just a concept, but with the backing of the leading Hispanic Republican, its seen as a way for the GOP to appeal to Latino voters turned off by the partys harsh rhetoric on immigration. Democrats have already panned it, and a New York Times editorial called it the DREAM Act without the dream.
Rubios proposal allows young people who came to the United States with their parents to have access to a non-immigrant visa that allows them to study, and after their studies are complete, allows them to work legally in the United States. Eventually, Rubio said, they gain the same status of other non-immigrant visa-holders and are eligible to apply for residency. Three to five years after they obtain a green card, theyre eligible for citizenship.
Its a non-immigrant visa, so it doesnt put them on a path in and of itself to residency and then citizenship, he said. But it does legalize their status, it wipes out any of these immigration penalties that they might be facing, and it allows them to go on with their lives with some level of certainty.
We asked Rubio to discuss his idea. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
One of the criticisms out there seems to be that theres sort of a category of second-class citizenship youre creating here.
Theres nothing second class about it. Right now theyre second class because they dont have access to any legalization format. Their status quo is a second-class process. Theyre illegally in this country and cant move forward with their lives.
They do not have a special pathway to citizenship - they would have to do it the regular way, just like anybody else would. But theyre not prohibited from accessing the citizenship process. And the good news for them is that they get to wait in line while living in the U.S. legally. They dont have to leave the country to do it.
So they could go to school or into the military?
Or start working when they graduate from school while theyre waiting in line for their green card. And it may take awhile. But thats not a function of this bill, thats a function of this broken immigration system, which Ive long said needs to be modernized.
How much of a role did meeting Daniela Pelaez and her sister have in shaping your thinking?
Danielas case is a good example. Its her and its also her sister, and they have very different stories. While shes valedictorian of her high school, her sister is 26 and shes not in school. So the DREAM Act may not help her sister. We want to be able to accommodate both dynamics, and to do that youve got to draft it in a way that gives them both the opportunity.