Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch joined a Republican-led effort Monday that proposes rigorous vetting requirements for young immigrants to “earn the right to citizenship” over a 15-year period — a legislative fix that comes nearly three weeks after President Donald Trump’s decision to dissolve an Obama-era program serving as a protection against deportation.
“This is a bill that literally could pass, that could solve these problems, that could end the screaming and shouting that we’ve seen in our country over these issues and, in the end, provide a pathway for these really good people,” Hatch said during a news conference unveiling the Succeed Act.
The relief measure, written by GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma, would have undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors apply for “conditional permanent resident” status and undergo a criminal background check. Maintaining that eligibility would require having a job, pursuing an education or serving in the military.
It also would mandate sending biometric and biographic information to the Department of Homeland Security and paying off any back taxes. After 10 years, individuals could apply for a green card (or “lawful permanent” status) and in another five years to become naturalized citizens.
“If you work hard, if you follow the law and you pay your taxes, you can stay here permanently,” Tillis said. “There’s no skipping in line.”
The lawmakers hope their conservative approach “is in place” before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, implemented in 2012, begins phasing out in March. Trump suggested in his Sept. 5 announcement calling for an end to DACA that six months should provide “a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act” on immigration.
Before the announcement, Hatch had called the president and urged him not to end it, fearing that action would put DACA participants who attend school or have work permits “in an extremely difficult place.”
“I agree with the president — we need tougher enforcement of our immigration laws, but we also need a real, permanent solution that recognizes the positive impact Dreamers have in our communities,” he said at the time.
The Succeed Act, Hatch hopes, will provide “a path forward on this” for the 800,000 immigrants granted permission under DACA to stay in the United States; more than 10,500 of those individuals were approved in Utah, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The senator was an original sponsor of the Dream Act in 2001, which did not pass but would have allowed undocumented students to pursue an education. Tillis criticized that plan Monday — as have many Republicans — saying it “has failed every single time” it’s been brought to the floor (“with all due respect to the senior senator here,” he added, grabbing Hatch by the arm).
The new proposal is also more conservative than the Dream Act, which has come under fire recently after Trump and Democratic leadership fostered an “understanding” that it should be a part of the solution to rescinding DACA.
Lankford, however, said he’s spoken to Trump and the president is on board with the provisions laid out in the Succeed Act. That includes preventing “chain migration,” which happens when an undocumented immigrant gains lawful permanent status and then petitions to get citizenship for family members.
“I don’t want to reward the adults,” Lankford said.
The bill, which Tillis called “a fair, compassionate, merit-based solution,” also looks to deter future illegal immigration by restructuring visa requirements. The senators said their legislation is “not designed to be a stand-alone” and should accompany other proposals for border security.
The measure is one among a slew of other recent and similar proposals, including the BRIDGE Act and the ENLIST Act. The 83-year-old Hatch said he’s “tired of this problem” and the country should “not just keep kicking it down the road.”
“These are young people who are in limbo,” he said. “It’s not fair to them.”