Republican lawmakers are throwing their support behind a proposal that would aid undocumented youth, but is it too little too late?
According to Democrats, it is.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are collaborating on the bill, according to the latter's office. The measure is still being drafted and there is no timetable for its release. It would serve as a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act, which was filibustered in 2010 by Republicans in the Senate.
"These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States," Goodlatte said in a statement provided by his office. "This is one component of immigration reform -- any successful reform plan must improve our legal immigration programs, strengthen border security and the interior enforcement of our immigration laws, and find a way to fairly deal with those who are currently in the country unlawfully."
House Republicans have balked at a broader pathway to citizenship that would include both children brought to the U.S. illegally as well as their parents. But GOP lawmakers have claimed there is momentum for passing a bill that addresses undocumented young people as part of the step-by-step approach it's taking to pass immigration bills.
"I think there is a consensus that we definitely need to do something about them," Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) told reporters Wednesday. "Their stories are very compelling and we have to [address them]."
But Democrats say the measure doesn't go far enough. Out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., there are an estimated 4.4 million under the age of 30, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of those, 1.7 million could be eligible for the Obama administration's deportation relief program.
However, there are reports that the bill would differ significantly from the 2010 DREAM Act, which would have applied only to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. before the age of 16. If there is an earlier age cutoff, for example, that could leave out many more undocumented young people. And that also doesn't begin to answer the question about what to do with their parents.
"You've got to deal with all aspects of the broken immigration system," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), a member of a bipartisan group working on immigration legislation in the House, told The Hill newspaper. "You can help the kids, but if you leave the parents behind, you still have a very broken system."
Democrats also have privately expressed doubt that Republicans are sincere about passing a DREAM Act-like bill. They point to the fact that an overwhelming number of House GOPers, including Cantor, voted for a measure that would have defunded Obama's deportation relief program for undocumented youth.
There is also concern that Republicans may try to pass legalization programs that fall short of a clear pathway to citizenship. That could put Democrats on the spot; force them to abandon their demand for a full pathway to citizenship or wind up with no bill at all that aids undocumented immigrants.
But for now, Democrats aren't taking the bait.
"We've been there, done that. It's insufficient," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a longtime immigration reform supporter, told reporters on a conference call Thursday. "I think the first part of our broad immigrant community that will say it's insufficient are the Dreamers themselves. For them, justice is not only about their own personal freedom and ability to live without fear of deportation."