Posted by on November 30, 2012 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Fall 2012 Intern

Within a year of vetoing the DREAM Act, two Republican senators have introduced a similar proposal, claiming that the Achieve Act is the first step in reforming the US immigration system. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced the proposal, which would grant legal residence to young people who came to the US as children. It parallels the DREAM Act, but does not grant automatic citizenship, so immigrants must still wait through a lengthy application process. Under this bill, the only pathways to permanent residency would be higher education or military service, rather than through automatic citizenship.

In an interview with PBS News Hour, Senator Hutchison laid out the plan she claims is an important step for immigration reform. “We tried very hard to come up with a balanced, comprehensive immigration reform. And what we found is that if you took one step -- say you're talking about the DREAM Act or the young people who are here and we want to have them achieve -- you take that and you are working on that, but then someone who is for you on that, but they don't like what you have done on the side of border control, or more DPS agents or more of the Border Patrol agents. And then you have another set that wants something for [agricultural] workers. And they won't like something you did in another section. And we found it impossible to come together in a comprehensive way, and it fell apart.”

Senator Kyl re-emphasized that this bill will be the first in a series of steps which will continue into next year. “It will begin the discussion. And it may be that it will lead to a series of smaller steps next year, rather than comprehensive reform. But, either way, I think focusing on certain specific issues like this preliminarily is a good way to understand what the issues are and to try to build a consensus over time.”

However, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez (D) and Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez (D) disagree, saying that it does not go far enough, since it does not allow young people “to fully participate in American life” because it does not guarantee an automatic path the citizenship. While standing beside Senator Hutchison, Gutierrez explained that people “can’t wait for piecemeal,” comprehensive reform must take place now. Yesterday, he, Senator Menendez and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus rejected the Achieve Act, claiming that it was “too little, too late.”

As 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama last month, Republicans are finally starting to realize how important not only the Latino vote, but the vote of immigrants, will be to winning the next election. Representative Gutierrez pointed out that this position is drastically different from that taken by Mitt Romney during his presidential campaign when he advocated for self-deportation.

Latinos were not the only group supporting Obama, since the “us-versus-them” mentality espoused by the GOP has alienated other minority groups as well. An AAI poll released in September, showed that Arab Americans also overwhelmingly supported Obama and identified as democrats. Only 28 percent of those polled favored Mitt Romney, compared with 52 percent who supported Obama. The large division is due to their positions on several issues, including immigration and other domestic policies.

It was unlikely that the bill would have passed Congress in the first place, since the co-sponsoring Senators will have retired by the time the new Congressional session begins in January. Despite appearances, it is doubtful that this indicates a shift in the GOP platform.  It is trying to court a voter base that it has repeatedly disrespected and disregarded through policies on immigration it has supported in the past, such as bills eliminating practical use of prosecutorial discretion. However, what is required is a genuine change, a realization that they need to address the issues that matter to voters, that they can’t win by only appealing to white male America; they must broaden their voter base by addressing the salient issues of immigrants, minorities, and women. They can no longer continue to dismiss a considerable portion of the American population and its concerns.

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