(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
In a strongly partisan election year, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is trying to build support for a bipartisan compromise on the DREAM Act, a Democratic bill that would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who graduate from college. Some critics argue that the measure is a cynical attempt to build support among Latino voters while offering them little in return.
Rubio's alternative to the DREAM Act would not provide citizenship, but would provide legal status, or a non-immigrant visa, for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were minors. They would also need to have no criminal record, graduated from high school and been accepted for admittance to a college.
"The first step I'm trying to make is to deal with children, basically, that were brought here at a very young age, through no fault of their own, find themselves undocumented. ... All I'm trying to do is help these kids do right where their parents did wrong," Rubio said Saturday in an interview on Fox News' "Wall Street Journal Editorial Report."
Rubio, a Cuban-American, is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. This is due, in part, to the possibility that he would help the campaign reach Latino voters. Latino voters have shown strong support for the DREAM Act.
On Wednesday, a separate immigration bill dealing with undocumented students was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.). Rivera's bill is called the Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status (STARS) Act.
Rivera has also introduced the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to obtain permanent residency if they serve in the military.
Rubio's Senate bill has yet to be introduced, but he hopes to do so by the end of the summer.
Rubio's proposal would also allow permanent residency for military service. That part of the bill, Rubio said, is not controversial. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would veto the DREAM Act, but supports a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who serve in the military. The path to permanent resident status for high school graduates who enter college is the most controversial aspect of the bill, according to Rubio.
After a period of time after graduating from college, the immigrant visa holders would be able to apply for a Green Card, or permanent resident status. The amount of time they would need to wait is still being negotiated, Rubio said.
When asked if the legislation amounts to amnesty for undocumented immigrants (a policy opposed by many Republicans), Rubio said, "there's a difference that we've long recognized in this country ... between people who have chosen to break the law and be here illegally and those who were either brought here by their parents or by circumstances. When you're 12 years old or eight years old, you don't choose to come to this country illegally. Many of these kids don't even know they're undocumented until they graduate and try to go to college."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Sen. Bob Nelson (D-Fla.) have expressed a willingness to work with Rubio to get the legislation passed, but President Barack Obama had indicated he will not back the bill. In an interview last month on the Laura Ingraham radio show, Rubio complained that the White House was calling Democratic congresspersons to ask them not to support his bill.
In a Sunday editorial for CNN, Charles Garcia, the CEO of Garcia Trujilio, a Latino focused business, said that Rubio is offering "nothing more than crumbs thrown to Latinos."
"Rubio talks about putting a Band-Aid on the patient's little finger, while silently stabbing him in the back," Garcia wrote.
Corrections: Monday, June 4, 2012:
An article on June 3, 2012, on Sen. Marco Rubio's alternative bill to the DREAM Act carried an incorrect headline stating that Rubio had already introduced his bill to the Senate. He has not. Also, Rep. David Rivera's Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status (STARS) Act is not a companion bill to Sen. Rubio's bill.