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Applicants would have six years to complete a post-secondary degree or enlist in the military under a new “W-1” visa category. They would have to check in with authorities every six months and would not be eligible for federal welfare benefits. Once they completed their studies or completed their military obligation, applicants would receive a “W-2” visa allowing them to work legally for four years. After that, they would be able to apply for a “W-3” visa granting permanent residency and work authorization, but without the possibility of becoming a citizen.
The bill is similar to a proposal discussed earlier this year by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., his party’s point man on immigration in the Senate. Rubio, who helped Kyl and Hutchison with their measure, said he would get behind it if it gains traction in the Senate.
Rubio’s own proposal never materialized into a bill but attracted tentative support from Democrats and immigration advocates. He ended up shelving his plan after Obama announced in June that he would grant administrative reprieve to young undocumented immigrants, making it possible for them to live and work legally in the country. Rubio said Tuesday he plans to introduce a new version of his proposal early next year.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Tuesday that although he had not studied the latest Republican proposal, he was not inclined to support it because it does not include a pathway to citizenship. “It falls short,” he said. “Without that pathway, it isn’t really about achieving a dream.”
Lorella Praeli, policy director at United We Dream, which advocates for passage of the Dream Act, called the proposal a “cynical political gesture.”
“We can’t take seriously legislation that does nothing to provide a road map to citizenship,” she said in a statement. “We won’t stop fighting until we win citizenship for every single new American. We need Sens. 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.”
Menendez said he is encouraged by the new Republican tone in the aftermath of the election. “I’m always optimistic when they move in a better direction,” he said, adding that the GOP has now realized it needs to reach out to Hispanic and immigrant groups. “The Republican Party needs to do a better job of listening to their concerns, and they fell far short of that.”
John Gramlich contributed to this story.