GOP senators introduce bill to provide pathway to citizenship for Dreamers

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On Monday night, three GOP U.S. senators introduced a new version of the DREAM Act which provides a 15-year pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, individuals brought illegally to the U.S. as minors.

This bill is the latest round in a 16-year effort to provide a route to citizenship. The new bill, known as the Succeed Act, co-opts immigration reform for those trying to obtain citizenship with increased border security funding.

“These are kids that literally do not have a home anywhere,” said James Lankford, U.S. senator and co-author of the bill, in a press conference. “We don’t want to promote illegal immigration. We don’t want to say to adults, ‘If you bring a child with you when you cross the border illegally you get some sort of award.’ But we do want to speak out on how do we want to handle an unresolved issue in America right now.”     

U.S. Senators Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, James Lankford, R-Oklahoma and Orrin Hatch R-Utah introduced the bill as a compromise between Republican desire for an increase in border security and Democratic demand for immigration reform.

The Succeed Act starts by allowing eligible Dreamers to apply for conditional permanent residency. After five years, if they do not violate the conditions of the visa, they are allowed to reapply. During this time, the applicant must also pursue one of three tracks: postsecondary or vocational education, employment or U.S. military service.

After the first 10 years under the program, the applicant can then apply for legal permanent residency, also known as a green card. They must then spend five years as a legal permanent resident before they are eligible to apply for citizenship.

Unlike most other green card holders, applicants will not be allowed to use their legal status to bring over non-U.S. resident family members, regardless of the family members’ status. This includes both family members who are currently undocumented in the U.S. and family members still residing in their home country.

To begin the process toward legal permanent residency or citizenship, all applicants must sign a waiver revoking their right to challenge potential future deportations in court should they lose their status at any point.

“I understand that the opposition might say that a good immigrant shouldn’t have to worry about being deported,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, undocumented student and government sophomore. “But the real situation is that sometimes people are mistakenly taken by ICE … By waiving (that right), it puts a lot of people in danger.”

This is not the first piece of legislation to be introduced this year for Dreamers. In July, a coalition of representatives from both parties and chambers of Congress introduced their own version of the DREAM Act, without border security funding attached.

“It’s disturbing to see a contingency of the conservative members of Congress come together and try to propose an alternative that tacks on restrictive immigration provisions when there is a clean DREAM Act that members of both sides have introduced,” said Elissa Steglich, clinical professor and attorney with the UT immigration clinic.

Rodriguez said the earlier bill is what the undocumented community has been pushing for years, a “clean” DREAM Act. The other bill also does not deprive applicants of the ability to use their legal residency status to bring over family members.

“The Succeed Act doesn’t seem responsive to the situation,” Rodriguez said. “In the Succeed Act, a person would have to wait 15 years … I’ve been in the country for 14 years now, (and) 15 more years would mean that I would be 35 before I’m actually able to call myself an American.”