A Republican-led push to legalize young unauthorized immigrants has been met with stony resistance from groups representing the very "Dreamers" such a bill would help.
Immigrant advocacy groups say the proposed Kids Act is a way to avoid a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, which would provide a pathway to citizenship to a much larger number of immigrants. The Kids Act, like earlier DREAM Act proposals, would legalize young people who were brought to the country by their parents and meet certain requirements.
"We will not stand for anything that separates our families," said Greisa Martinez, an organizer with United We Dream, the largest group representing young unauthorized immigrants who have lived in America since they were children. Martinez's mother crossed over to Texas from Mexico illegally to seek work when Martinez was just 2 months old. "For someone to ask me to leave [my mother] behind, to say she's unworthy of citizenship, it's un-American," Martinez said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is working with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on the Kids Act, which would legalize immigrants like Martinez but stop short of a sweeping immigration reform bill like that passed by the Senate in June.
The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the legislation on Tuesday. House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday declined to say whether he personally backed a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million immigrants in the country who can pass a background check and pay fines, saying it's up to the chamber's members to decide. Boehner has refused to bring the Senate immigration reform bill up to a vote, saying that the House will work on its own legislation.
United We Dream voted as a group in September to reject any immigration reform bill that does not offer a pathway to citizenship to most of the country's unauthorized immigrants, saying it will take all or nothing. Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream's managing director, told reporters on a conference call on Monday that she was "outraged" by the Kids Act, which she said would "condemn our parents and our families to second-class status."
"We won't give in to any political strategy that wants to use Dreamers and leave their parents behind," Jimenez said.
Just a little over two years ago, Dreamers were organizing sit-ins and marches on the Hill to try to persuade a few House Republicans to support the Dream Act, which would have offered young people a path to citizenship if they attended college or joined the military. The proposal had passed in the Senate but failed in the Republican-led House.
The 2012 presidential election has changed the political landscape since then, however, as Republican candidate Mitt Romney fared dismally with Hispanic voters. Establishment Republicans such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have since said the party must embrace immigration reform or face demographic suicide. The Senate reform bill passed with 14 Republican votes, but a broad pathway to citizenship is seen as more politically risky for House Republicans to back. Many could face primary challenges to the right when they run again next year.
Young unauthorized immigrants in the country also now have the option to apply for a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit through an administration program created by President Barack Obama last summer. This temporary status makes legalization less pressing for them than their parents, who could still face deportation. Dreamers say they plan to protest the Kids Act in Washington on Tuesday.