Two Republican senators introduced a slimmed-down version of the Dream Act on Monday, hoping to offer a more conservative option to grant a pathway to citizenship to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, but with more strings attached and over a longer time frame.
The legislation, from Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, appears to break with a number of the principles President Trump laid out, including still allowing chain migration and lacking new security measures.
Instead the bill, which the senators have dubbed the Succeed Act, grants a long, multitiered path to citizenship that requires illegal immigrants to prove they’re holding down a job, are pursuing a higher education or are in the military in order to stay in the program.
They would be protected from deportation at the beginning, but could only move on to permanent legal status if they continued to meet benchmarks, including paying taxes and proving that they haven’t landed on the public dole.
That is tougher than other proposals already floating around.
“We’ve got to set a high bar and send a clear message that people wanting to come to this country should do it legally,” Mr. Tillis said, estimating more than 1 million illegal immigrants could gain protection.
The bill would allow Dreamers — generally those who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents, with little say in the decision — to apply for a conditional five-year legal immigrant status, while they go to school, join the workforce or serve in the military.
As long as they clear that hurdle, pay taxes and keep a relatively clean criminal record, they can earn a second conditional five-year status. At the end of that, they could apply for full legal permanent residence — a green card — and five years after that could apply for citizenship.
The legislation would delay the point at which Dreamers could sponsor family, but once they are full citizens they could still petition for legal status for their parents — often the very people who brought them to the U.S. illegally in the first place.
Mr. Lankford said they don’t see the bill as a standalone, calling it “designed to fit into other pieces” that would include security.
Mr. Trump has gone even further, saying earlier this month that the eventual solution should block chain migration and must include more enforcement measures.
Still, the Lankford-Tillis legislation underscores the appetite among many Republicans to figure a way to grant Dreamers full citizenship rights.
Long the most sympathetic figures in the immigration debate, many Dreamers are deeply invested in the U.S., including having attended top colleges and graduate programs, or served in the military. They are usually seen as blameless victims of their parents’ decisions — which is why allowing them to be the anchors for their parents to eventually claim legal status irks those who want to see an immigration crackdown.
Mr. Lankford said creating a nearly two-decade delay for Dreamers to sponsor their parents is enough, saying it’s about how long it would take if one of them were to be joining the process from Mexico at this point.
“I don’t want to reward the adults for bringing a child with them,” Mr. Lankford said.
The bill divided immigrant-rights advocacy groups.
The National Immigration Forum called it “a constructive, conservative solution.”
“We look forward to working with the senators,” said Ali Noorani, the forum’s executive director.
But Frank Sharry, a previous forum director who now runs America’s Voice, said Mr. Lankford and Mr. Tillis were being too strict by making illegal immigrants wait too long before being able to claim citizenship, and to sponsor their parents and other family for legal status as well.
He also objected to a provision that would require Dreamers to agree to be deported if they break the terms of the legalization program.
“None of these provisions are applied to other groups of admitted immigrants. Why, then, does this bill send this group of young Americans to the back of the bus?” Mr. Sharry said.
The new bill’s sponsors, though, said the Dream Act has been floating around for a decade and hasn’t passed, so their bill offers a chance to break through that gridlock.
“This is a bill that literally could pass, could solve these problems,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who had backed the Dream Act in previous years.