Rep. David Rivera on Wednesday introduced the first Republican version of the Dream Act in this Congress which would give a select group of high-achieving illegal immigrant students the chance to stay and study in the U.S.
The Florida Republican said his bill was designed to help students in the same predicament as one of his constituents, Daniela Pelaez, who is graduating as valedictorian of her high school but who was brought to the U.S. illegally at age four and has been ordered deported.
"This legislation can make the American dream a reality for young people like Daniela who through no fault of their own are prevented from realizing their full potential in this land of opportunity," Mr. Rivera said.
His bill, which he deemed the Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status Act, or Stars Act, would apply to students who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, who got their diploma, kept out of trouble and were accepted to a four-year college or university.
They would be eligible to apply for a five-year visa to stay and study in the U.S., and if they graduate from college they would be able to apply to stay longer and be put on a path to citizenship.
Illegal immigrant children and young adults are among the toughest cases in the immigration debate, having been brought here with little say in the decision, often as very young children. In some instances they say they didn't even discover they were here illegally until late in their teens.
Some lawmakers oppose any new rights for illegal immigrant students, but for those who do support new rights, the key question is how broadly to draw the law.
Mr. Rivera's bill is far more narrow than the versions introduced by Democrats, known as the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to those at least into their late 20s. The Dream Act would set a much lower education standard — often as low as having enrolled in several college-level classes.
The Dream Act would also apply to illegal immigrant young adults who join the U.S. military.
It's unclear how many illegal immigrants would qualify for any of the bills. Estimates for Democrats' legislation range wildly from tens of thousands into the million.
In past years some Republicans had supported Democrats' efforts, but after a GOP-led filibuster blocked a version in the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress the issue has become toxic for many in the GOP.
Mr. Rivera, a freshman Republican, had promised to write legislation that would give the GOP an entry into the debate.
Likewise Sen. Marco Rubio, another Florida Republican who is viewed as a rising star in his party, has said he'll write his own legislation.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has taken a leadership role in pushing for broad immigration legislation, said he hasn't studied the details of Mr. Rivera's bill, but said he welcomes the debate.
"It is so rare lately that Republicans are interested in seriously discussing the immigration issue, so I want to be encouraging and keep an open mind," he said. "The DREAM Act and immigration reform used to enjoy strong support in both parties but the Republicans have walked away because of the anti-immigrant faction in their party. But I am open to talking to anyone who has practical ideas about how to end the deportations that are splitting up families and destroying the dreams and futures of our young people."
Republicans' presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has said he would veto the Dream Act, though he said he does support a path to citizenship for the narrow category of illegal immigrants who join the U.S. military.
President Obama is a strong supporter of the Dream Act.
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