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Senate Republicans took a first step Tuesday toward a compromise on immigration by proposing to allow young illegal immigrants brought to this country as children to remain permanently.
Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas — both of whom are retiring at the end of the year — unveiled legislation that would create three new visa categories for young immigrants who enroll in college or join the military.
A draft bill the senators have been working on for months would not grant young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, an omission designed to head off Republican opposition but a move likely to cost the measure Democratic support. For more than a decade, Democrats have pushed the Dream Act (HR 1842, S 952), which would give young illegal immigrants a direct route to gaining citizenship.
Hutchison described her proposal with Kyl as a “starting point” in an immigration debate during the months ahead. “We wanted to put down a well-thought-out position that would give people a chance to look at it and possibly debate it during the lame duck. If not, certainly as a starter for next year,” she said.
The Republican proposal comes as the GOP seeks to improve its image among Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama’s re-election.
“Most of this has been in the works for a long time,” said Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, which advocates for immigration policy from a business perspective. “The election has intensified things and accelerated them, but Republicans have been thinking about changing the dynamics on immigration and thinking about solutions toward fixing the legal immigration system. This is the fruit of that process.”
The election has emboldened Democrats, who are now more forceful in their demands for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will push for a comprehensive overhaul that would grant citizenship to many of the 11 million people living here illegally.
The proposal by Kyl and Hutchison would apply to people younger than 28 who have lived in the country for the previous five years. Applicants would have to show they have lived here since age 14, stayed out of legal trouble, learned English and know about U.S. history and government.