Florida Sen. Marco Rubio began pushing a Republican version of the DREAM Act in the spring of 2012 to help the party bridge a widening gap with immigrants and Latino voters.
Rubio’s version, often called DREAM Act 2.0, differs dramatically from the Democratic-sponsored legislation that died in the U.S. Senate in 2010. But moderate Republicans argue that at least the 2.0 version offers something to children of undocumented immigrants who are struggling to get college educations.
The Rubio plan would allow undocumented immigrant teenagers to study, work and enlist in the U.S. military. They would be able to get driver licenses and perhaps even apply for college loans.
Unlike the original DREAM Act, however, they would only be able to get non-immigrant visas and would have no immediate path to permanent legal residency.
To get permanent status under Rubio’s proposal, these undocumented young people would be required to self-deport themselves to their home countries and then start over applying for citizenship or a green card.
“We have these very talented young people in America who find themselves in limbo through no fault of their own,” Rubio has said. “I think there’s broad bipartisan support that these kids are in a different category.”
Critics in the Democratic party charge that the proposal would create a permanent under-class of U.S. residents who are stuck in a caste in U.S. society. Critics say it is the equivalent for immigrants of another “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and as problematic as the one for gays in the military.
Some of the loudest critics go so far as to compare Rubio’s proposal with South African apartheid and say it would actually be worse than doing nothing. Democrats argue that Rubio doesn’t go far enough and is merely an attempt by Republicans to curry favor among immigrant voters.
Republican supporters of the plan say it represents a major move from some of the hardline positions the party has put forward in recent years. During the presidential primaries of 2012, for example, some candidates called for the deportations of all undocumented residents, whether they were underage or not.
Among the most moderate Republicans, there is support for doing something to help the children of illegal immigrants and a recognition that they should not be blamed or punished for the behavior of their parents. There is also the argument that these students could bolster the U.S. economy.
Moderates believe the party has to move away from the harsh immigration laws passed by state legislatures in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, among others.
Rubio has said he would push to get his version through Congress before the fall college semester, which is also before the November election. Some polls show President Obama with a 40% lead over Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters. Obama supports the original version of the DREAM Act.
The most reliable estimates suggest there are still about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and perhaps as many as 2 million of them would be eligible to benefit from DREAM Act legislation.
While campaigning for his plan, Rubio often mentions the case of Daniela Pelaez, the South Florida high school student who graduated as the valedictorian of her class and earned acceptance to some of the country’s top colleges, and yet is fighting deportation to her native Colombia.
Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who is advising the Romney campaign on immigration, opposes any plan that creates a path toward permanent residency, including Rubio’s. “If it involves the giving of lawful status to illegal aliens en masse,” Kobach said, “then it is unacceptable. A path to legal status for someone who is here illegally is amnesty by definition.”
Kobach helped write Arizona’s immigration law and those of several other states. Rubio and Kobach represent polar opposites when it comes to immigration policy in the Republican party.