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Retiring Sens. Hutchison and Kyl Announce Achieve Act, Scaled-down DREAM Act, But Without Citizenship

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Yesterday, outgoing Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) and Jon Kyl (AZ) held a press conference to announce the Achieve Act, a scaled-down version of the DREAM Act which offers legal status to young undocumented immigrants but not necessarily citizenship.

The Achieve Act would cover DREAMers who are currently younger than 28 (or younger than 32 in some instances), who were brought to the US before age 14.  It would give them a new type of visa in exchange for completing schooling or military service, after which they could apply for a work visa, after which they could apply for legal permanent residency.  The bill resembles an idea Marco Rubio was floating around earlier this year, and though he discussed the Achieve Act with Sens. Hutchison and Kyl, he said he was not ready to be a co-sponsor.

There were many early criticisms of the Achieve Act yesterday, with commentators calling it “too little, too late,” and pointing out that it does not achieve the dream of full-fledged citizenship for immigrants (as the DREAM Act does).  Senator Kyl attempted to rebut those complaints yesterday, by claiming that citizenship has always been available for immigrants already in the US—if they just marry Americans (no word on what DREAMers who want to marry fellow DREAMers are supposed to do).

Other commentators noted that the Achieve Act puts would put immigrants through unnecessary hurdles in exchange for barely more than what President Obama’s deferred action program (DACA) already offers.  Sen. Kyl attempted to address this by spending much of his Achieve Act press conference time railing against DACA:

The administration has unfortunately chosen to take the law into its own hands, choosing to ignore current law because it didn’t think it was good policy.  They created a special status in fact if not de jure for this group of people.  Those of us who strongly believe in the rule of law believe that, in our country, if you don’t like the rule of law, change it, or seek to change it.  Don’t violate it.  For a civilian that’s called civil disobedience; for the president, it’s called violating your oath of office.  We don’t think it’s a good idea for the president to be put in a position where he says, the only way where I can help these people is to not enforce the law that Congress passed and one of my predecessors signed.  If you don’t like the law and you don’t think it’s fair, you ought to change it, to conform the law to what is the right policy.  We are introducing this bill, not dissimilar to what the president has done de facto, to right the law and to do it in the right way.

Still others questioned the Senators’ timing, announcing the Achieve Act mere weeks before they retire from office, just before Congress is scheduled to buckle down on fiscal cliff talks, while not voting to support previous immigration bills like the 2010 DREAM Act.  To that, Sen. Kyl only said, “We’re going to have to count on the people like Sen. [John] McCain [R-AZ] and Sen. Rubio, and others who have an interest in this issue next year because neither of us is going to be here.  I confess to you, that’s another reason we decided to go ahead and file this legislation now.”

And though the Senators said that they did not announce the Achieve Act in response to this month’s election, when Mitt Romney lost the Latino vote by more than a 3-1 margin, their citizenship-less legislation is almost certain not to make new inroads with Latino voters.  Gary Segura, a pollster with Latino Decisions, today highlighted a June 2011 poll finding that 75% of Latino registered voters wanted a pathway to citizenship in any immigration reform bill; more recently, a CNN exit poll found that 57% of all Americans favored a similarly comprehensive approach.

While it’s good to see some Republican proposals on immigration reform, it would be even better if they were bold and new proposals put out by folks who will actually be around next year.  But, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ announcement of their own 9 principles of immigration reform press conference today, “at least the Republicans aren’t talking about self-deportation anymore.”

Here are other responses to yesterday’s announcement of the Achieve Act.  From Lorella Praeli, Director of Advocacy and Policy at United We DREAM:

This proposal from some in the Republican party–the same party that killed the Dream Act in 2010, pushed ‘self-deportation,’ and supported inhumane policies that divide our families and our communities–is a cynical political gesture.  This proposal falls well short of the policy changes which further American values of fairness and community and which DREAMers and the majority of Americans support.

DREAMers and their supporters have more power than ever, having won the deferred action policy that was backed by the resounding electoral impact of Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters at the ballot box on November 6th.  We can’t take seriously legislation that does nothing to provide a roadmap to citizenship.  We won’t stop fighting until we win citizenship for every single new American.  We need Senators Hutchison and Kyl, and the rest of their party, to come to the table and sit down with Democrats to come up with a real solution.  We won’t stop until we’ve won citizenship for DREAMers and the other new Americans who deserve to be a part of this country they call home.

From attorney Raul Reyes at NBC Latino:

Unfortunately, this may be the rare instance where it is better to ‘dream’ than to ‘achieve.’ The Achieve Act is an inadequate imitation of the Dream Act.  It creates no sure pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth, while saddling them with additional eligibility requirements.  If Republicans are serious about immigration reform, they should dump this half-baked alternative to the real deal.

From EJ Montini at the Arizona Republic, in a column entitled “Kyl’s irrelevant final act”:

What good is introducing a piece of legislation that you KNOW isn’t going to pass while you’re in office? Because it’s for show…

All the things you should have been doing all those years when you were in office and NOT about to retire. But that’s how politics works. Not exactly a profile in courage….

Unfortunately, the two senators initiating this one have been around for decades and could have started the discussion long, long ago. And what good is a discussion that you admit isn’t going to lead anywhere? Because it’s for show. For the politicians, anyway. It’s not a show for the Dream Act kids. It’s their lives, which have gone on in a of legal limbo that should have been fixed by now.

From an unnamed Democratic aide, quoted by the Washington Post:

It’s not exactly a profile in courage for two senators — who happen to turn into pumpkins in about a month — to weigh in on a bill that’s been around for a decade and that they’ve opposed for nearly as long,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see if members of their party will be willing to continue the conversation they’ve waited far too long to start.

From Fawn Johnson at National Journal:

For now, though, the bill’s introduction has sent a signal that some Republicans—even if it’s just retiring ones—want to talk about immigration, a sharp difference from their wariness about the issue before the election.

From Amanda Peterson Beadle at Think Progress:

But the bill introduced on Tuesday by retiring Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX),  dubbed the ACHIEVE Act, is nothing more than a watered-down version of the bipartisan DREAM Act without a clear path to citizenship for those who would qualify under the measure.