We have our first legislative response from Republicans in the post-election world. Lame-duck Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona have offered a new bill that provides amnesty to illegal aliens who were brought to the United States at a young age through "no fault of their own" by their parents. The ACHIEVE Act doesn't provide a path to citizenship for these young people, but does provide an opportunity for those who qualify to permanently live and work in the country.
It comes as no surprise that Kyl and Hutchison are leading the first effort. While both voted against the most recent DREAM Act attempt in 2009, Sen. Hutchison voted for DREAM in 2007, and Sen. Kyl supported the original DREAM Act back in 2003. Of all the current GOP Senators, the career amnesty grades of both Hutchison and Kyl rank among the bottom half of their caucus.
In short, the ACHIEVE Act creates a new, three-tiered visa class called the W-visa. Illegal aliens must prove that they came to the country before they reached the age of 14 and have lived here continuously for at least 5 years before the bill's enactment date. They must also have a basic understanding of English and U.S. history, must have good moral character, and must have not committed a felony or more than one misdemeanor. Most of the basic requirements are similar to the Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that went to effect earlier this year.
The Hutchison/Kyl bill does lower the age of eligibility for applicants without a bachelor's degree to 28 or younger, but for applicants that already hold a bachelor's degree, they can be up to 31 years old - the same age requirement for DACA.
Applicants can hold the first visa, the W-1, for up to 6 years. The visa provides them with a work permit, and they must earn a bachelor's, associate's, vocational/technical, or advanced degree during that time or serve at least 4 years in the military. Should they satisfy those requirements, they'll be offered a W-2 visa, granting them 4 more years to work in the U.S. or earn an advanced degree. Should applicants continue to meet the requirements and stay out of trouble, they'll be offered a W-3 visa, which is a permanent nonimmigrant visa.
Besides the amnesty, the ACHIEVE Act has three major flaws. First, the bill fails to address any of the reasons why we have 11-18 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. in the first place. Without any major enforcement provisions, like mandatory E-Verify, foreign nationals will continue to bring their children to the U.S. illegally hoping that someday their children can benefit from a bill like this one.
Second, the bill doesn't offset current legal immigration numbers. Senators Kyl and Hutchison, and other GOP Leaders like them, think the biggest concern groups like NumbersUSA have against the DREAM Act is that it indirectly rewards the parents through Chain Migration. They think they've solved this by not providing a path to citizenship. While eliminating the path to citizenship does prevent the parents from being rewarded with permanent residency or citizenship through Chain Migration, it has no impact on reducing future flows of legal immigrants. The federal government will still admit more than 1 million new legal immigrants on top of the millions of young illegal aliens who will benefit from the amnesty.
Third, the bill would create a a permanent underclass of workers who won't be able to vote or experience the other benefits of U.S. citizenship. Just last week, prominent Republicans, including Dr. Richard Land from the Southern Baptist Convention and Alfonso Aguilar from the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, participated in an immigration discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, and both agreed that there has to be a pathway to citizenship to prevent the creation of an underclass. So within the pro-amnesty Republican ranks, the Kyl/Hutchison bill is likely to get some criticism.
Senators Kyl and Hutchison acknowledged at their press conference on Tuesday that the bill likely wouldn't go anywhere during the lame-duck session. They said their purpose was just to get the discussion started before their time in the Senate was over. And Sen. Kyl did criticize the Administration for taking the issue into their own hands by issuing the DACA memo. But in the end, the first crack at a GOP immigration bill is a clunker.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA