In response to the much-debated DREAM Act, Republican senators introduced their own immigration reform proposal, the ACHIEVE Act. But what might look like a compromise actually cuts out the most important aspect of the DREAM Act: a path to citizenship for people who were brought to this country illegally as children.
When debating the merits and shortcomings of the two bills, it’s essential to keep in mind that both address young people whose parents brought them to this country when they were too young to decide for themselves. These people are not criminals, regardless of what their parents did, and they shouldn’t be treated like it.
The DREAM Act offered undocumented young people a clear path to full citizenship if they went to college or joined the military. That’s what would have made it so great, if it hadn’t been shot down. The ACHIEVE Act does not promise citizenship. Instead it allows qualified immigrants to apply for visas, so they will not live in constant fear of deportation but they also won’t have any kind of stability or clear future.
“Under the Achieve Act, these youth would be neither ‘illegal’ nor citizens,” attorney Raul Reyes wrote in his USA Today opinion piece smartly criticizing the proposal. “Is it really a good idea to create a long-term, growing class of ‘in-between’ people?”
The ACHIEVE Act also narrows the eligibility window, allowing fewer people access to the limited program. It requires that participants be age 28 or younger, and have been 14 or younger when they were brought to this country. The DREAM Act would have applied to people who are 30 or younger, who came here when they were 16 or younger. Earlier versions were even broader, with a maximum age of 35.
Under the ACHIEVE Act, participants would also have to check in with Homeland Security every six months, which, Reyes pointed out, sounds a lot like probation.
“The check-in requirement,” he wrote, “goes against the intent of the Dream Act — that we should not punish children for the illegal actions of their parents.”
It’s good that Republicans are entering the immigration reform conversation with anything resembling an amnesty plan, but the ACHIEVE Act is simply not enough. The point of the DREAM Act was to acknowledge that children brought here illegally didn’t do anything wrong themselves, and that after growing up in the United States, going to college here, or serving in the military, they deserve no less than full citizenship.