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Politics & Government

GOP bill will offer Dreamers citizenship after ‘extreme vetting’

Sen. Thom Tillis will introduce his “conservative Dream Act” on Monday that would provide a pathway to citizenship for as many as 2.5 million young undocumented immigrants, but one that is long and involves “extreme vetting.”

The North Carolina Republican and cosponsor James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, will pitch the plan as “merit-based” relief that must be earned — and, critically, not “amnesty,” according to Republican talking points obtained by McClatchy. But unlike other merit-based immigration proposals that limit new immigrants from entering the country based on their job skills, this proposal would limit who can remain in the country based on their years of American education, work experience or military service.

“Choosing between either mass deportation of Dreamers or blanket amnesty is a false choice,” the lawmakers argue, according to the talking points. “There is a third option: an organized process by which talented and hard-working young Americans can earn legal status.”

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All applicants will have to pass a medical examination and be “extreme vetted.” The vetting will include three separate rounds of security and background checks to ensure they have no criminal history and pose no national security threat. The first check would happen when the immigrant enters the program followed by a second check after five years. The third check comes after 15 years, if and when the immigrant applies to become a citizen.

The bill differs from previous iterations of the so-called Dream Act, which failed to pass a Democratic-controlled Senate in 2010. The Tillis-Lankford bill has a longer time frame and has a more expansive list of disqualifying crimes, for example.

“There needed to be a fresh new examination of what a Dream Act should look like, specifically from a conservative angle. This is a new, unique attempt,” said Matthew La Corte, immigration policy analyst at Niskanen Center, a libertarian research group which has been working with Tillis on the legislation. “Going back to the same, stale, tired Dream Act didn’t seem like it was something to go back to on the policy side or the political side.”

Republicans see the Tillis plan as the best chance yet to protect young undocument immigrants who will soon be facing deportation after Trump ordered the end of the Obama-era deferred action program known as DACA that allowed some 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally by their parents to have work permits.

Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a solution before the DACA protections are phased out next year. But he also said he wants Congresss to deliver a large immigration package that includes not only a fix for Dreamers but funding for a border wall.

That’s why immigration advocates are already skeptical of the Tillis-Lankford proposal; indeed the legislation is unlikely to be brought to the floor as a stand-alone measure because the GOP authors want to use it to draw Democrats to the table to discuss border security measures.

“Simply, Congress cannot pass any border security package without finding a way to entice a small group of Democrats to join the bill,” the authors argue, based on the talking points.

The proposal has received support from influential leaders in the business community who see the measure as the best opportunity to protect Dreamers who will soon be in line for deportation.

“We want the Dream Act, but our view of this debate in general is we want to help immigrants and help the economy and help Americans,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “So we’re pragmatic. Right now, we want 800,000 or more dreamers who are in jeopardy.. we want to protect them.”

The Niskanen Center touts the potential economic benefits. It estimates that eligible recipients would help create 115,000 new jobs and contribute $200 billion to federal, state and local governments.

“This is good economics and good policy making,” La Corte said, noting that it would tell Dreamers, many of whom were educated in American schools, that “it’s time to fully invest in you as a member of our economy and our society. The economic evidence is overwhelming that this would be great for the American people.”

The Tillis and Lankford plan would be a companion proposal to a House bill introduced by Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo.

Like Curbelo’s bill, the Tillis plan would offer an eventual path to U.S. citizenship for immigrants who entered illegally before Jan. 1, 2012, and were 16 years old or younger.

The proposal would grant high school graduates without a serious criminal record conditional immigration status for a five-year period. During that time, if they earn a higher-education degree, serve in the military or stay employed, they could apply for permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship.

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