Outgoing U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced a bill Tuesday that would provide legal status for immigrants brought to the country illegally as minors.
The bill, called the ACHIEVE Act, is co-authored by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona. It would create a new visa system affecting “young people who intend to pursue a technical or college degree, or serve in the U.S. military,” according to a statement on Hutchison’s website.
Hutchison, who will leave Washington next year after serving in the U.S. Senate since 1993, concedes that the legislation is not comprehensive immigration reform but says it is nonetheless a “step forward in addressing a time-sensitive issue.”
The bill is evidence that the Republican Party is becoming more focused on working toward a solution on immigration following this month’s general election, which analysts have said favored Democrats due, in part, to the GOP’s harsh stances on immigration. Hutchison made clear, however, that the proposal does not guarantee citizenship.
“Many young people in this country are here illegally through no fault of their own. Relegating a potentially productive portion of the population to the shadows is neither humane nor good economic or social policy,” the senators said in a joint statement. “Only individuals who have abided by our nation's laws, while residing within its borders, would be eligible for continued legal status, and there is no automatic path to citizenship.”
The bill has similarities to the current “deferred action” policy put in place by President Obama this year, but it's not clear how the proposal would work along with that policy.
Under the deferred action, immigrants who arrived in the country illegally before they were 16 and who were younger than 31 as of the June 15 announcement may be granted relief from deportation proceedings and a two-year work permit. They must have graduated or be enrolled in school, have earned a GED or have been honorably discharged from the military. They must have also lived in the country since June 15, 2007, and have never been convicted of a serious misdemeanor, three misdemeanors or a felony.
Under the Kyl-Hutchison proposal, applicants must have lived in the country for five years; entered the country before the age of 14; have not have committed a felony, more than one misdemeanor or a crime of moral turpitude; and must not have a final order of removal pending. They must also know English and have a working knowledge of the U.S. government, according to Hutchison's website.
Approved applicants would receive a new W-1 visa, which would require them to check in with the Department of Homeland Security every six months and would not allow access to welfare or federal benefits, including student loans. They would then be eligible for subsequent visas that allow them to continue to work and eventually apply for a permanent nonimmigrant visa.