It may seem ironic that two retiring GOP senators are the first in their party to introduce a Senate immigration bill after an election where 71 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama, but they may be the only ones who can. Other Republicans, like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have expressed interest in discussing the issue but still shy away from putting their names next to any legislative ink. You never know when that signature will come back to bite you with the party base.
Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, unveiled their version of the Dream Act Tuesday, which has been in the works for over a year and also in Hutchison’s wheelhouse for at least five years. (By both senators’ account, Rubio was heavily involved in the drafting although he is not a cosponsor.)
The bill would give undocumented students who came to the United States before the age of 14 and are 28 or younger legal status with a series of visas—first student and then work visas—but it would stop short of offering them citizenship. Democrats are rejecting such an idea for now, arguing that the concept would create an underclass of people in the United States if they don’t have full voting rights. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is hoping for a broader bill that would address the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.
Kyl acknowledged the lines for citizenship are so long under current law that people could remain here for their entire lives without getting to the front of it. But he also said the kids that are eligible for visas under the Kyl/Hutchison Dream Act are young and will probably marry U.S. citizens, which is the fastest way for them to become citizens themselves. “I don’t think it’s any big secret that a lot of people who participate in this program will have a very quick path to citizenship,” he said.
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. Kyl said Obama made GOP talks on immigration difficult with his administrative action deferring deportation for the so-called “dreamers.” But Kyl also acknowledged that his bill would accomplish basically the same result. “It’s a way to begin the conversation in a calm and reasonable way,” he said. “I really don’t want to get involved in a discussion of political tactics.”