Sen. Thom Tillis introduced his “conservative Dream Act” on Monday to provide a pathway to citizenship for as many as 2.5 million young undocumented immigrants.
Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, and co-sponsors James Lankford, R-Okla., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, pitched their plan — the Succeed Act — as “merit-based” relief that must be earned and, critically, not “amnesty.”
But unlike other merit-based immigration proposals that limit new immigrants from entering the country based on their job skills, this proposal would limit who can remain in the country based on their years of American education, work experience or military service.
“This is not an amnesty bill,” Lankford said.
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To be eligible, applicants had to arrive in the United States before the age of 16 and before June 15, 2012, pass a “rigorous” criminal background check, submit biometric data to the Department of Homeland Security, pay off existing federal tax liabilities and sign a waiver that they won’t be eligible for any form of immigration benefit if they ware convicted of a crime while on conditional permanent resident status.
The vetting will include three separate rounds of security and background checks to ensure they have no criminal history and pose no national security threat. The first check would happen when the immigrant enters the program followed by a second check after five years. The third check comes after 15 years, if and when the immigrant applies to become a citizen.
“We think it is a balanced resolution to a vexing problem that hasn’t been solved for 30 years,” Tillis said. “We’ll take hits on the far left for saying you’re not getting them to citizenship soon enough and we’ll take it on the far right for saying you’ve ever given them an opportunity to pursue citizenship.”
Republicans see the Tillis plan as the best chance yet to protect young undocumented immigrants who will soon be facing deportation after Trump ordered the end of the Obama-era deferred action program known as DACA that allowed some 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally by their parents to have work permits. Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a solution before the DACA protections are phased out next year.
“There needed to be a fresh new examination of what a Dream Act should look like, specifically from a conservative angle. This is a new, unique attempt,” said Matthew La Corte, immigration policy analyst at Niskanen Center, a libertarian research group which has been working with Tillis on the legislation. “Going back to the same, stale, tired Dream Act didn’t seem like it was something to go back to on the policy side or the political side.”
The bill differs from previous iterations of the so-called Dream Act, which failed to pass a Democratic-controlled Senate in 2010.
Hatch was an original sponsor of the Dream Act.
Tillis said it was clear that the Dream Act did not have enough support to pass the Senate and the House. Lankford said the Succeed Act is not a standalone bill and would require companion legislation, particularly around border security.
Lankford said Trump “was very supportive of the concept” of the legislation.
That’s a non-starter for some immigration activists.
“We demand that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell immediately allow for a vote on a clean Dream Act, without trying to use us as bargaining chips for more money for out-of-control border control and immigration enforcement,” said Make the Road New York.
The proposal has received support from influential leaders in the business community who see the measure as the best opportunity to protect Dreamers who will soon be in line for deportation.
“We want the Dream Act, but our view of this debate in general is we want to help immigrants and help the economy and help Americans,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “So we’re pragmatic. Right now, we want 800,000 or more dreamers who are in jeopardy.. we want to protect them.”
The Niskanen Center touts the potential economic benefits. It estimates that eligible recipients would help create 115,000 new jobs and contribute $200 billion to federal, state and local governments.
“This is good economics and good policy making,” La Corte said, noting that it would tell Dreamers, many of whom were educated in American schools, that “it’s time to fully invest in you as a member of our economy and our society. The economic evidence is overwhelming that this would be great for the American people.”
The Tillis and Lankford plan would be a companion proposal to a House bill introduced by Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo.