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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 | Last updated: 2:25pm

Senators propose alternative to DREAM Act for young immigrants



Although a proposed bill is being called an alternative to the DREAM Act, which grants young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, some members of the UA community are decrying the bill as a failed attempt to address immigration issues faced by the country.

Three U.S. Republican senators proposed an immigration reform bill, called the ACHIEVE Act, on Nov. 27 that would allow immigrant youth to go to school or join the military and eventually obtain a renewable work visa through a three-step process. The three-step process includes a visa that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a bachelors, associates, vocational, technical or advanced degree within six years or serve four years in the U.S. military.

Retiring Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) filed the bill in attempt to grant legal status to young undocumented immigrants with illegal status.

The act isn’t inclusive of people who flee their country because of its impoverished state, said UA professor Anna Ochoa O’ Leary, of the Mexican American Studies Department. Instead, the bill intends to support only a young population that can be assimilated into the U.S. easily and without effort, she added.

“It’s almost as if we are saying, ‘We don’t want those people. We only want those that we don’t have to spend a whole lot of time educating and we can plug them into our workforce. We can use them to help us meet those high-tech or professional needs,’” O’Leary said. “We’re not addressing the real problem.”

Matt Matera, director of Scholarships A-Z, works with undocumented students to obtain equality in education and find scholarships that do not have a documentation requirement. The proposed act is another attempt to define a “good” immigrant versus a “bad” immigrant, Matera added, meaning that only those who intend to work and go to college are valuable immigrants.

It devalues what undocumented immigrants are trying to achieve, he said.

“Students and families who are undocumented, they don’t just want to work or fight in the military or go to school,” Matera said. “They want to just have the freedom to do what they want to do. And that’s what we should be providing to anyone, regardless of immigration status, is the freedom to come and go.”

Under the bill, after completing the education or military requirements, young immigrants would be eligible to apply for a four-year work permit. This permit would allow them to stay in the states if they work all four years or study for a master’s degree.

Other requirements in the act include experience in English, American history and principles of U.S. government. Those who qualify would not be eligible for any federal student loans, work study or other higher education federal benefits. Young immigrants would also not qualify for public welfare benefits under the proposed act.

Matera said the requirement implies that there’s a fear of bilingualism in the U.S. Small differences such as age requirements between the DREAM Act and the ACHIEVE Act shrink the gap of those who qualify for a visa.

The original DREAM Act would grant 38 percent of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, Matera said.

“If that’s our starting point … We have a huge problem. Because we haven’t started at a new fresh idea of true reform,” Matera said. “And that’s where we need to be at. We need to begin with a new idea and listen to students and families in the movement in order to create real policy.”

Zoey Kotzambasis, vice president of UA College Republicans, said she thinks it’s great that Republicans are showing some initiative in immigration reform. It suggests that both parties could maybe collaborate more efficiently on immigration issues in the future, she added.

“This kind of gives me a little bit of hope,” Kotzambasis said, “That maybe — since they’re similar enough but they have some slight differences — maybe they’re willing to compare them side by side and hammer out those issues and actually compromise.”


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