GOP Senators Offer 'Calm and Reasonable' Pathway to Citizenship for Illegal Aliens

Elizabeth Harrington | November 27, 2012 | 2:39pm EST
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Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) (AP)

( – Senators John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) introduced an alternative to the DREAM Act on Tuesday as, they said, to “take a little baby step” to tackle the issue of illegal immigration “in a calm and reasonable way.”

The senators, who are both retiring at the end of this year, held a press conference on Capitol Hill to unveil their version, entitled the Achieve Act, which would provide young illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

“We’re not saying that this is the end all, be all,” Hutchinson said, “we’re saying that there is a very time- sensitive issue of these young people.”

“We think that the best thing we can do to utilize their talents, the education they have received, is to give them a legal status and have them earn their way into a permanent legal status,” she said.

“We’re trying to take a little baby step here in a calm and reasonable way,” Kyl said.

The bill would allow illegal immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 14, younger than 28 and have lived in the country for 5 years to be eligible to enroll in a series of visa programs, eventually leading to permanent status.

Applicants who have “good moral character,” no felony criminal record, speak English, and have knowledge of American history will be qualified to receive a W-1 nonimmigrant visa that would enable them to pursue an educational degree or enlist in the military.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). (AP)

Those who earn a degree or complete military service will then be able to obtain W-2 status to work in the United States for four years, after which they can apply for a permanent nonimmigrant visa.

Kyl said adding the opportunity for W-3 status was necessary.  “We also had to add the element of for the rest of your life, regardless of anything else, you can have a status as a legal person in the United States entitled to all the benefits of the United States,” he said.

"This is not only the most timely and necessary action, it's also the most humane," Hutchison said.

Kyl said his alternative legislation is superior because the DREAM Act had a series of “technical problems.”  One change he made was to increase the length of military service from 2 years to 4 years.

The bill also prohibits the use of public welfare benefits and access to federal student loans.  Those enrolled must also check in with the Department of Homeland Security every six months.

“There’s emotion all over this issue,” Kyl said.  “From enforcing the laws to the border being insecure to questions about who should be allowed in under our visa program [and] when you say go to the back of the line, do you know how long the line is?”

“For some people, they’ll die before they’ll get to the front of the line,” he said.  “Well, does that work?”

The senators insisted that their legislation is not in response to a weak performance by Republicans in attracting Hispanic votes in the recent election, but that the bill has been in the works for more than a year.

Young immigrants stand in a long line at Chicago's Navy Pier on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, for guidance with a new federal program that would help them work legally in the United States and avoid deportation. At least 11,000 people showed up for the workshop led by immigrant rights advocates for help in putting together identity documents and filling out the detailed forms on the first day that the federal government began accepting applications. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)

Kyl said his legislation is also a response to President Barack Obama’s executive move last summer to offer deferred action to young illegal aliens, granting them two-year renewable work permits.

“The administration has, unfortunately, chosen to—in one phrase, taken the law into its own hands, choosing to ignore current law because it didn’t think it was good policy,” Kyl said.

“Those of us who strongly believe in the rule of law believe that in our country, if you don’t like the law, change it, or seek to change it -- don’t violate it,” he said.  “For a civilian, that’s called civil disobedience, for the president, it’s called violating your oath of office.”

The senators said Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) played a “very important role” in developing the Achieve Act, offering the idea of using student and work visas.  The Florida senator himself has been working on a GOP version of the DREAM Act, which Democrats failed to pass during the lame duck session in 2010.

Kyl and Hutchinson said it is “doubtful” their bill will be taken up before the end of the year.

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