Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dream to Achieve: Comparison of Proposals to Address Young Undocumented Aliens

In the wake of the presidential elections, many in the Republican Party have shown a greater willingness to consider comprehensive immigration reform. In particular, many have seen a softening of the GOP's stance on immigration reform necessary in light of the overwhelming majority of Latino voters who supported President Obama.

Nonetheless, the Republicans may not be in complete uniformity on what shape comprehensive immigration reform should take.  One issue that may prove to be the most difficult to address could be what to do about the many undocumented aliens already in the country.  The issue of creating a guest worker program, with some pathway to citizenship, may complicate the drive for comprehensive reform.

In the meantime, there appears to be some agreement that young people, brought to this country as children and who have grown up as if they were Americans, deserve some form of relief.  This is on the heals of the President's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which could grant a promise not to deport such young people who meet certain qualifications.  The program has its roots in the DREAM Act, which failed in 2010 when a Senate filibuster prevented the bill from coming up for a vote.

At least two Republicans have been working on a similar bill over the past year.  Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl, both of whom will retire in January, have been working on the Achieve Act as an alternative to the DREAM Act.  There appears to be a movement to try to bring the Achieve Act up for a vote before January.

The Achieve Act, however, has some major differences in qualifications when compared to the President's deferred action program.  If the Achieve Act were to pass, it could cause a number of people, who have applied for and already received deferred action, out in the cold as far as permanent relief is concerned.

The requirements for relief under the Achieve Act are:  (1) the applicant must have completed high-school and be admitted to college or earned a college degree, or completed high school and be enlisted in or have completed four years of military service; (2) the applicant must have entered the country before the age of 14; (3) the applicant must have lived in the U.S. continuously for five years; (4) the applicant must have not committed a felony, two misdemeanors with a jail term of over 30 days, or a crime of moral turpitude; (5) the applicant must not be subject to a final order of removal; (6) the applicant must pay a $525 fee; and (7) the applicant must be under the age of 28 (or 32 if they have a bachelor's degree from a U.S. university).

The major differences are:  (1) the deferred action program only requires that the applicant be enrolled in a U.S school, have a high school diploma, have a GED or be enrolled in classes to work toward a GED; (2) the deferred action program only requires that the applicant enter the United State before age 16; and (3) the deferred action program only requires that the applicant be under age 31 as of June 15, 2012.

With these key differences, there are several young people who would qualify under the deferred action program,  who would not qualify under the Achieve Act.  People who entered the United States after age 14, but before age 16, for example, would be out of luck under the Achieve Act.  Likewise, people who have a high school diploma, but who chose not to go on to higher education would be left out.  Finally, the cut-off age is lower for the Achieve Act.

It is unclear why the Republican proposal has stricter qualification requirements than the current deferred action program.  It may be explained by the fact that the bill was drafted before the President announced the program.  Nonetheless, equity would argue that the bill be modified to cover all of those covered by the deferred action program.  Whether that will happen, or the Republicans stick to their guns remains to be seen.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
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