After the GOP's stunning loss in November's presidential election, many in the Republican ranks see immigration reform as the only way to attract an expanding Latino population. Yet the first hurdle to jump is finding the right platform from which to launch the process and therein may be the biggest challenge facing Congress next year.
Earlier this week Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) introduced the Achieve Act, a skinny version of the Dream Act proposed by Democrats and Hispanic politicians such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R).
The bill would give young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship based on their age and educational status. Some argue it's the perfect place for the GOP to start. Others disagree, saying the Republicans are still missing the mark and are not doing enough to convince Hispanic voters they understand their culture or needs and therefore, will never earn their trust or votes.
In an editorial in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley makes the point that Kyl and Hutchinson's bill is the right place to start so Republican legislators who will be in the Senate next year can work across the aisle to find a suitable compromise that can pass.
"Both Kyl and Hutchinson are retiring this year, and the bill is unlikely to be taken up in a lame duck session, so they're hoping that other past supporters of comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate – John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio – will continue the effort next year. A bigger problem, potentially, is that the Democrats might not be interested in cooperating," wrote Riley.
However, attorney and columnist Raul Reyes disagrees and says the Republicans' plan "offers no clear path to and saddles undocumented youth with additional conditions for legal status."
Reyes instead believes the Dream Act is a better starting point and outlined his thoughts in a weekend column that appeared in Saturday's USA Today.
"The Dream Act would have allowed undocumented youth to get on a path to citizenship, provided they attended college or served in the military. In contrast, the Achieve Act does not promise citizenship," Reyes wrote. "Instead beneficiaries can apply for a series of three visas, which would allow them to work and obtain legal status."
"But this not the same as citizenship, long the 'dream' of undocumented young people. Although they would be free from fear of deportation, their futures would still be uncertain. Under the Achieve Act, these youth would be neither 'illegal' nor citizens. Is it really a good idea to create a long-term, growing class of 'in-between' people?"
Key elected officials such as Rubio who are Hispanic and represent border states with a high number of illegal residents started gaining momentum when they brought forth what could be considered a "conservative" Dream Act. However, President Obama got the jump on them in mid-summer when he issued an executive order saying that children of those who are here illegally will not be deported.
While Obama's plan is good for only two years, it most likely won him support within the Latino community, especially in November.
Rubio's proposal, meanwhile, stood little to no chance of passing a Senate controlled by Democrats.
Others such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry worked with the legislative bodies to craft legislation allowing the children of illegal immigrants to attend state colleges and universities and pay in-state tuition. Perry was booed when he try to defend the measure during a GOP presidential primary debate last spring.
"In my opinion, Gov. Perry was right," said Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "These kids are not here because they chose to be so they should not have to suffer the consequences of such. From a biblical perspective, it is not right and not fair."
Land, who for the last several years has argued for both parties to pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan, not only makes the argument from a practical perspective, but from a biblical one.
"So-called 'Christian' groups who oppose immigration reform stand to alienate the very foundation of Christian doctrine," said Land. "These groups need to wake up and realize there is a new demographic in America. White evangelicals can no longer stand as the visual representative of the Christian movement."
And Reyes thinks the Republicans need to scrap their latest bill and return to the Dream Act before they start to negotiate with Democrats.
"If Republicans are serious about immigration reform, they should help re-introduce the Dream Act, not offer up flawed compromises. The Achieve Act is a faulty, inadequate measure. It creates new hurdles for undocumented youth who want nothing more than to become Americans. Immigration reform should start with nothing less than the Dream Act."