Finally, Republicans unveil a workable immigration bill

Republican Senators Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchison have finally taken the GOP’s first steps toward a comprehensive immigration reform plan by announcing their newest bill. Frankly, it’s about time.

If you were following politics as closely as I was immediately after the election, you would have noticed some startling numbers driving the final result. On one hand, Mitt Romney beat out President Obama among white voters by historic margins, capturing 59% of their votes. But Obama was able to pull off a victory thanks to even larger margins with Hispanic voters – fully 77% voted for him, along with more than 90% of blacks and 73% of Asian-Americans. Combined, those groups made up about 27% of the electorate, and their Democratic leanings gave Obama the decisive edge on Tuesday night.

Pundits have called on the GOP to “diversify or die” for a long time, but the voting power of minorities (previously an inconsistent phenomenon) has become constant enough to force a serious conversation within the party on what needs to change. Immigration – a major issue for Hispanics – is clearly an area in which Republicans can do better.

Enter the ACHIEVE act.

The ACHIEVE act, explained by Kyl and Hutchison at a press conference today, will serve as a Republican foil to President Obama’s DREAM act. Both bills focus on the children of illegal immigrants, and not on the problem of illegal immigration itself, but nevertheless represent key stepping-stones for dealing with the massive number of undocumented workers in the US.

The Republican plan, according to Politico, works something like this:

The ACHIEVE Act would legalize undocumented children in three steps. First, eligible immigrants would receive a visa to attend school or enlist in the military. Then they would be able to apply for a work visa once they completed a higher education degree or served four years in the military. The final step would give those eligible an opportunity to get a permanent visa that would not provide a “special” pathway to citizenship.

Compare that description to the DREAM act, and you’ll notice a lot of similarities – emphasis on schooling or military service and an alternative to citizenship that lets illegal minors stay here without fear of deportation are two obvious examples. That also opens the ACHIEVE act up to much of the same criticism the DREAM act has faced, like the critique that a pathway to residency is just a “magnet” that will draw in more illegal aliens.

I’m not going to comment on the merits of either bill here – that’s a discussion we’ll have later. But I do want to praise Sens. Kyl and Hutchison for at least introducing something. Republicans had an opportunity to pass serious immigration reform under George Bush in the early 2000s and failed to do so. Our current refrain of “deport, deport, deport,” certainly isn’t making us any friends, and it’s a laughable solution to illegal immigration.

That’s why I’m glad the ACHIEVE act is on the table. Even if it gets chopped down, it’ll have started us talking. That counts for something.

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Posted in Social Policy

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