Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Republicans introduce 'Achieve Act,' but a comprehensive plan is still far off

A rally attendee signs a banner in support of immigration reform.
A rally attendee signs a banner in support of immigration reform.
Michael Juliano/KPCC

True to the tone that some Republican leaders struck after they lost the presidential election, a handful of GOP lawmakers have been pushing immigration bills that could allow some people to stay in the country. 

But a comprehensive plan from the right side of the aisle is still far off. The two GOP-sponsored bills making the news this week involve a) making it easier for foreign science and technology students to remain in the country, and allowing an easier time for spouses and children of legal residents to obtain green cards; b) allowing young people who have lived in the country since they were minors a path to work visa-based legal status, but not all the way to citizenship.

The first bill, called the STEM Jobs Act, is fairly limited in scope with its primary focus on highly skilled foreigners (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics). It comes up for a House vote on Friday. 

The latter bill, dubbed the Achieve Act, was introduced Tuesday by Republican U.S. senators Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas.

Mechanically speaking, it's similar to the Democratic-backed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, versions of which have been in circulation since 2001: Applicants must have entered the U.S. by age 14, have a relatively clean record and "good moral character," and be under 29 - or under 32 if they have a U.S. bachelor's degree - when they apply. One stark difference, though, is that it offers no direct path to U.S. citizenship, and even the indirect path is uncertain.

The process in brief, as as described by The Hill:

The bill, called the ACHIEVE Act, sets up a three-step visa system to allow many of those brought into the U.S. at a young age to stay in the country.

The first visa would allow those enrolled in college or the military to stay for six years. After they graduate or leave the military, they could then apply for another four-year work visa, and after that they could apply for four-year visas to allow them to stay legally in the country. 

The visas in the plan would be non-immigrant visas. Achieve Act beneficiacies could eventually apply under existing law for permanent legal resident status, and eventually citizenship, but the process would be no easier than for any other non-immigrant visa holder. USA Today had this explanation from co-sponsor Kyl:

The bill does not offer citizenship to those who complete the requirements for a W-3 visa. Kyl said the bill does not preclude visa holders from applying for citizenship, but offers no guarantee that they will receive it.

"No path to citizenship is denied you here," Kyl said. "We're not relegating people to some desert island."

It's unlikely that the Senate will take up the bill during the year-end lame duck session. Meanwhile, immigrant advocates are taking issue with the lack of a path to a green card and citizenship. The broader DREAM Act, which initially would provide only conditional legal status for beneficiaries if they attend college or join the military, eventually allows them to move from conditional to permanent legal status, from where they can apply for citizenship.

Some have called out the GOP plan's similarity in aspects to the Obama administration's existing deferred action program, which allows young undocumented immigrants to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation: "We also miss the point of the bill in its current form given the ‘deferred action’ immigration policy change," Angelica Salas, director of the the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Deferred action, which kicked in last August, has similar requirements in that applicants must have arrived in the country before age 16, have a clean record, and have been no older than 30 as of mid-June. It contains no path to permanent legal status or citizenship.