Kay Bailey Hutchison

Republicans Flirt With Immigration Reform Again


Cindy Casares Portrait

Above: Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

Every so often, the GOP is beaten badly enough that some Republicans realize that appearing to support immigrants might be their ticket to relevancy with Latinos. That time has come again for retiring U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Jon Kyl (R-Arizona). The pair recently filed an alternative to the DREAM Act called the ACHIEVE Act. As the title suggests, they are not letting immigrants get away with any idle dreaming. They must ACHIEVE to stay in America legally.

The ACHIEVE Act is similar to the DREAM Act in that it requires young immigrants brought here illegally when they were minors to obtain academic or military achievement before earning a pathway to legal status. The important difference, however, is that the DREAM Act ultimately provides a path to citizenship while the ACHIEVE Act only provides a path to permanent residency. If you want to know how the ACHIEVE Act works in detail, you can read about it here.

This isn’t the first time in 2012 that the GOP has flirted with immigration reform. In June, the Texas Republican Party, at its convention, replaced a zealously xenophobic plank on immigration with something called “the Texas Solution,” a Texas-based guest worker program that would provide cheap labor to business owners while offering no path to citizenship for workers. So, what’s new? Well, the Texas Solution calls for workers’ private health insurance to be provided by employers or the workers themselves. (Ha.) It also demands that the federal government limit birthright citizenship to those born to a citizen of the United States “with no exceptions.” Republicans try to pander to Latino voters, but they always end up going off a cliff.

What both Republican plans have in common is that they don’t help immigrants. They help the Republican party win Latino votes. They’re the sort of desperate act that comes of realizing your political party will die if you don’t appeal to the country’s largest growing demographic, no matter how much you wish they would just go back to Mexico.

In reality, both the ACHIEVE Act and the Texas Solution are unfeasible. The Texas Solution is essentially the Bracero Program of the mid-twentieth century all over again. Back then, employers realized that the provisions of the program increased their costs and thus began hiring under-the-table workers again. The ACHIEVE Act not only doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, but would only be applicable for a fraction of the current young immigrant population. A study by the Migration Policy Institute found that less than 5 percent of the country’s 2.1 million immigrants who currently meet all the requirements for the DREAM Act, which are similar to the ACHIEVE Act, have the academic credentials to begin the six-year waiting period required before they can apply to adjust to permanent status. The rest of the undocumented youth and young adults must overcome steep financial burdens, high drop-out rates, and a language barrier in hopes that they will even make it out of high school, much less college.

In short, all the immigration plans discussed here, including the DREAM Act, are a band-aid. What’s needed urgently is comprehensive immigration reform that deals realistically and fairly with the 12 million undocumented people living in this nation. Broaden political asylum to include those fleeing cartel-related violence, beginning with Mexico. Going forward, give all immigrants the same chance we give Cubans. If we don’t catch them entering our border, then they are free to stay and allowed to apply for expedited legal permanent resident status and, eventually, U.S. citizenship.

Whether out of fear for their own political future or because Republicans have truly come to embrace immigrants, maybe it doesn’t matter so much. Just get it done.