GOP Senators Aim To Win Over Conservatives With Tougher ‘Dreamer’ Amnesty Bill

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Republican senators rolled out a new proposal Monday that would would give illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a path to citizenship, while curtailing their ability to sponsor family members for immigration.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma are pitching their bill as a “conservative Dream Act” in an effort woo immigration hawks in Congress who won’t support a standalone bill to legalize recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In addition to limits on family sponsorship, the so-called Succeed Act would implement stronger security checks for applicants and require them to meet strict education or work requirements to be eligible for a green card. The bill sets out a 15-year track to naturalization — 10 years in a conditional status period and then at least five years as a legal permanent resident, according to a fact sheet from Tillis’ office.

Matthew La Corte, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Niskanen Center, says the Succeed Act will be more palatable to conservative lawmakers than the Dream Act, a bipartisan amnesty bill favored by Democratic leadership.

“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 La Corte, who worked with Tillis on the legislation, told McClatchy Newspapers. “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.”

Under the Succeed Act, an applicant must have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived here since June 15, 2012, the date that the Obama administration initiated the DACA program. They must obtain a high school diploma and submit biometric data to the Department of Homeland Security, which would conduct a background check to ensure they have no criminal history and don’t pose a threat to public safety.

Applicants that meet the minimum requirements would then move to a “conditional permanent residence” status, reports Politico. The conditional period would last 10 years, during which the immigrant must either earn a college degree, serve in the military for at least three years or maintain consistent employment. If the applicant has met those conditions, he or she would then be eligible for a green card and, five years after that, U.S. citizenship.

After President Donald Trump ended DACA earlier this month, he urged Congress to pass a bill that would give legal status to the nearly 800,000 program beneficiaries. Trump initially flirted with Democrats over a standalone amnesty but backtracked after receiving criticism from conservative Republican lawmakers and activists. The administration now insists that any DACA amnesty be part of a broader deal that includes enhanced border security measures.

While the Tillis-Lankford proposal does include more stringent eligibility requirements, it doesn’t address the concerns of conservatives worried about secondary effects of a Dreamer amnesty. The bill would prevent applicants from sponsoring family members while in conditional or green card status, but those prohibitions fall away once the person gets U.S. citizenship, paving the way for family-based immigration of millions of foreign relatives.

The Succeed Act also doesn’t touch on the e-Verify employment verification system, something that immigration hawks say is necessary to eliminate work-based incentives for future illegal immigration.

“Unless it includes E-Verify & RAISE, there’s nothing “new” about it,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, tweeted Monday.

“The ‘extreme vetting’ rhetoric is BS: without E-Verify & RAISE, this would just tee up more amnesties in the future,” he added.

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