GOP senators introduce DREAM Act alternative

GOP senators introduce DREAM Act alternative
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Three Republican senators are rolling out new legislation that would create a track to legalization for people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures We are running out of time to protect Dreamers MORE (Okla.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures We are running out of time to protect Dreamers MORE (N.C.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (Utah) introduced the SUCCEED Act on Monday, pitching it as an alternative to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, backed by Democrats.

"The DREAM Act has been floated around for a decade," Lankford told reporters. "We don't believe the DREAM Act is a conservative solution to how to be able to resolve this, but we also don't want to leave this question unanswered." 

Lankford signaled that President Trump was supportive of the concept behind the bill. But he cautioned that Trump hasn't seen the text and that the bill would need to be part of a broader legislative package. 

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The legislation would set up a path to a green card — and eventual citizenship — for people who were brought into the United States before mid-2012 and before the age of 16. 

"This act is about the children. It's completely merit based," Tillis said. "It ensures fairness. There's no skipping in line." 

Republican senators said people eligible for their legislation would largely track with those currently covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the Trump administration is phasing out. 

The legislation lays out a series of years-long hurdles that people would need to complete to remain in the country. 

To initially be eligible under the legislation, an individual would have to obtain a high school diploma, undergo a background check, submit data to the Department of Homeland Security and pay any back taxes. 

That would allow a person to apply for "conditional permanent residence," which would need to be renewed after five years. During that time they would need to be continuously employed, earn a college degree or serve in the military for at least three years. 

After maintaining the conditional status for 10 years and demonstrating they "are a productive, law-abiding member of society," people in the program could apply for green cards. After five additional years, they would be able to apply for citizenship. 

"This bill I believe is a fair and orderly method to providing a ... solution for the DACA children," Tillis said. 

Trump has repeatedly said he wants Congress to do something for the thousands of people enrolled in DACA. At a dinner earlier this month, he agreed to work on a deal with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to pair a fix for the DACA program to new border security measures.

Schumer said last week he was still "very optimistic" about reaching a deal with Trump. 

Republicans have said they are sympathetic to those who were brought to the country illegally as children and are ready to take action.

"I'm tired of this problem," said Hatch, who wrote the original 2001 DREAM Act. "I think we need a permanent solution, you know, since DACA was rescinded." 

Tillis acknowledged their bill would likely get criticism from conservatives opposed to a pathway to citizenship, which they often refer to as "amnesty," as well as liberal activists who are adamant that Congress needs to pass a stand-alone DREAM Act. 

"We think that it's a balanced resolution to a vexing problem ... and we'll have to take the hits," Tillis said, adding that he hopes Democrats will "check some of their biases" and work with them. 

The GOP senators include provisions in their bill aimed at softening concerns from conservatives.

The legislation wouldn't allow participants who earn green cards to petition to have family members granted permanent residence. 

Trump and conservative lawmakers have repeatedly blasted "chain migration." 

"CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!" Trump tweeted earlier this month.

The legislation would also require anyone who wants to receive the initial conditional status to "sign a waiver from future immigration benefits if they violate certain terms of their status." And anyone convicted of a felony or "significant misdemeanor" would lose their conditional status.