Republicans on DREAMers: Take It or Leave It

PHOTO: Immigration reform supporters leave the Senate chamber in the Capitol after watching passage of the Senate immigration reform bill on Thursday, June 27, 2013.

House Republicans are telling Democrats to take it or leave it when it comes to a proposal to address young undocumented immigrants.

The House immigration subcommittee on Thursday staged a hearing on the status of those immigrants, known as DREAMers. And Republicans in that committee are backing a bill that would offer DREAMers legal status, and eventually citizenship.

But top Republicans indicated they're not willing to go farther. That likely means they won't agree to creating a path to citizenship for all of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"I do not believe that parents who made the decision to illegally enter the U.S. while forcing their children to join them should be afforded the same treatment as these kids," said Bob Goodlatte (Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Because let's be clear -- parents bringing their young children to the U.S. illegally is not something we want to encourage."

Democrats and immigrant-rights activists have said for weeks that such a measure does not go far enough because it leaves out their parents and relatives. A bipartisan, Senate-passed immigration bill would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to earn full citizenship after a 13-year wait.

"Let me be clear and unequivocal, legalizing only the DREAMers is not enough," said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) "It is not enough given all the hard work and equities that millions of immigrants have built in this country."

Activists and lawmakers on the left believe a DREAMers-only proposal, or a plan that would offer legal status but not citizenship to the undocumented, could be used as a political cudgel by Republicans to divide Democrats on the immigration issue.

"Right now, the only thing standing between the people behind me and their families getting on a path to citizenship is a Republican procedural excuse when the votes exist right now to pass it," Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, said at a press conference with DREAM Act students before the hearing.

Goodlatte and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are working on a proposal tentatively named the KIDS Act, which would legalize some young undocumented immigrants. The proposal hasn't been introduced yet and lawmakers did not discuss its specific provisions at the hearing.

Republican lawmakers, both leaders and rank-and-file, have claimed there is a "consensus" forming around the issue in the party.

"I believe members across the aisle can unite and agree that providing them with some sort of relief is the fair thing to do," Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said.

Not every Republican is on board with the idea, though. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has long been hostile to the idea. And just last week, he claimed that for every DREAMer who is a valedictorian, there are 100 more who are drug smugglers.

One top Democrat said that it would be tough to make the bill bipartisan, claiming that her party hasn't been consulted as it's been drafted.

"We've not yet seen the language of the KIDS Act and we have not been asked to contribute to the effort." said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is co-authoring another bipartisan immigration bill. "This is a sharp departure from the history of the DREAM Act legislation."

But Gardner framed the focus on DREAMers as a compromise that most Republicans could accept.

"During this process, we must find the appropriate balance," he said. "We cannot reward those family members who have broken the law."

Democrats, however, appear willing to try and stop the KIDS Act if it comes to the floor.

"If the DREAMers have the courage to stand up against this farcical piece of legislation, which of course prevents their pathway forward, we have to have the courage and vision to do what's right for our nation and make sure we have a solution to the immigration problem, not a legislative gimmick," Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) told reporters before the hearing.

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