One of Congress’s ranking Republicans on immigration says he will not support either of the two measures by fellow Republicans that would spare undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors from deportation.
Rep. Steve King, the vice chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, told Fox News Latino that measures permitting undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. reward lawbreakers.
King, who is from Iowa, said that Florida Rep. David Rivera’s bill, called “Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status Act,” or STARS – which was introduced in May – “meets the definition of amnesty.”
STARS would allow some undocumented students who enroll in college to stay in the country legally and eventually apply for citizenship. The other measure, not yet introduced, is being drafted by Sen. Marco Rubio who, like Rivera, is from Florida.
Rubio’s bill would give visas to undocumented immigrants – brought to the United States as children – if they attend college or serve in the military, but it would not give them legal permanent residency, casually referred to as “a green card.”
The GOP bills aim to serve as an alternative to the Democrats’ DREAM Act, which grants a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors. Those who support giving a break to undocumented immigrants who were brought as children say they should not be penalized for the decisions of the adults who broke immigration laws.
King said the GOP measures are unlikely to get far in Congress. The U.S. Senate has a Democratic majority, but the House is controlled by Republicans.
“They would have a hard time getting [the bills] through the [House] Judiciary Committee,” he said, noting that the Judiciary Committee Chair, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, is also firmly opposed to giving breaks to people who live here unlawfully.
“They say things that tug at our hearts,” King said. “They say [immigrants] weren’t aware they were breaking the law. But it was their parents that made the poor choices for their children. It’s not our moral obligation to make up for the poor decision to bring them illegally from their countries.”
It was their parents that made the poor choices for their children. It’s not our moral obligation to make up for the poor decision to bring them illegally from their countries.
- Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, vice chairman of House immigration subcommittee
Giving young people a chance at some kind of legal status, even if it’s conditional, would be “pardoning immigration law breakers, and rewarding [the parents] with the objective of their crime.”
The proposal by Rubio, who is often mentioned as a possible running mate to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his presidential bid, is seen by many political observers as an olive branch of sorts by the GOP to Latino voters who have been put off by hard line on immigration taken by Romney and other Republicans during the GOP primary.
Political experts say that a presidential candidate must win at least 40 percent of the Latino vote in order to win the general election, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
Rubio's spokesman, Alex Burgos, said that the senator is mindful of the difficulty of getting bipartisan support for almost any kind of immigration bill.
"He opposes the DREAM Act," Burgos said. "But he believes we should find a way to help young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own. He believes this is a humanitarian issue. [Rubio's plan] does not create a special pathway to citizenship, it simply addresses their situation and tries to help them in a limited fashion."
Burgos said that Rubio "deeply believes there is strong Republican support out there for this idea."
Romney has often said that he opposes the DREAM Act, and even vowed to veto it if it were law and he became president.
The DREAM Act, which Democrats have pushed for without success, would give undocumented students brought as minors a chance to obtain permanent U.S. residency if they attend college or serve in the military, and eventually apply for citizenship if they desire.
That version of the DREAM Act passed the House in 2010 but was defeated in the Senate by a 55-to-41 vote. In the Senate, three Republicans supported the measure, five Democrats voted no.
Rubio, his spokesman said, "is looking at past efforts that have failed and trying to address some of the strongest concerns about the DREAM Act and trying to come up with something that has strong bipartisan support."
Under Rivera’s bill, undocumented immigrants under the age of 19, who arrived in the country before the age of 16, could apply for a five-year nonimmigrant visa if they demonstrate “good moral conduct” and get admitted to college. Upon graduation, they could apply for a five-year visa renewal. If successful, the applicant could then apply for permanent residency, and eventually citizenship.
Both GOP proposals seek to address the criticism leveled by conservatives that the DREAM Act would allow too many newcomers to become citizens and cause an increase in chain migration.
“Many young immigrants are stuck in limbo due to Congress’s failure to address immigration reform," said Rivera's spokeswoman, Leslie Veiga. "Congressman Rivera’s bill, the STARS Act, would help undocumented students who arrive in the United States at a young age, and have long standing ties in this country, make the American Dream a reality. The STARS Act is meant to start the conversation in the House of Representatives in the hopes of achieving some sort of immigration reform in the 112th Congress.”
Calls to Zoe Lofgern, a Democratic congresswoman from California and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, were not returned.
Both the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants are popular among Latinos. A Fox News Latino poll conducted in March found 90 percent of likely Latino voters support the DREAM Act and 85 percent favor providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Political insiders say that the GOP bills could make their way to the House floor for a debate and vote -- despite opponents like Steve King, Lamar Smith and other Republicans in that chamber who are hawkish on immigration -- if House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican,, decided to push it out there.
"But it would be very uncomfortable for him," King said, "I don't think the votes are there to pass it."
Earlier this year, Boehner gave a tepid response to reporters’ questions about Rubio’s plan-in-progress.
“I found it of interest,” Boehner was quoted as saying in published reports, “but the problem with this issue is that we’re operating in a very hostile political environment. To deal with a very difficult issue like this, I think it would be difficult at best.”
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, an Illinois Democrat who is a leading proponent of the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, believes that a majority of Democrats could support Rubio’s bill if it “stops the deportations and is sensible and reasonable,” according to Talking Points Memo, a digital news organization.
Gutiérrez said he is willing to support any measure, regardless of whether it’s authored by a Democrat or Republican, if it will stop the deportations of undocumented immigrants brought as minors.
Some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met in recent weeks with Rubio to learn more about his proposal, and expressed concern about his ability to gather enough Republican support for it to make it viable.
“Sen. Rubio is still working on his proposal, so many details are fluid,” said Gutiérrez after that meeting with Rubio. “I left the meeting optimistic that we can continue to talk and share ideas. The big question that remains unanswered is how Sen. Rubio's proposal helps build support among Republicans in the House who oppose immigration reform.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente