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GOP: After extreme vetting, bill would offer citizenship

McClatchy Washington Bureau

September 24. 2017 9:46PM

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., will introduce a bill Monday that would provide a path to citizenship for as many as 2.5 million young undocumented immigrants, but one that is long and would involve “extreme vetting.”

Tillis and co-sponsor James Lankford, R-Okla., will pitch the plan — which they call a “conservative Dream Act” — as “merit-based” relief that must be earned, “ and, critically, not “amnesty,” according to Republican talking points obtained by McClatchy.

But unlike other merit-based immigration proposals that limit new immigrants from entering the country based on their job skills, this proposal would limit who can remain in the country based on their years of American education, work experience or military service.

“Choosing between either mass deportation ... or blanket amnesty is a false choice,” the lawmakers argue, according to the talking points. “There is a third option: an organized process by which talented and hardworking young Americans can earn legal status.”

All applicants would have to pass medical examinations and be “extreme vetted.” The vetting would include three separate rounds of security and background checks to ensure that the applicants have no criminal history and pose no national security threat. The first check would happen when the immigrant enters the program, followed by a second check after five years.

The third check comes after 15 years, if and when the immigrant applies to become a citizen.

The bill differs from previous iterations of the Dream Act, which failed to pass a Democratic-controlled Senate in 2010. The Tillis-Lankford bill has a longer time frame and has a more expansive list of disqualifying crimes, for example.

“There needed to be a fresh new examination of what a Dream Act should look like, specifically from a conservative angle. This is a new, unique attempt,” said Matthew La Corte, immigration policy analyst at Niskanen Center, a libertarian research group which has been working with Tillis on the legislation. “Going back to the same, stale, tired Dream Act didn’t seem like it was something to go back to on the policy side or the political side.”

Republicans see the Tillis plan as the best chance yet to protect young undocumented immigrants who will soon be facing deportation after Trump ordered the end of the Obama-era deferred action program known as DACA that allowed about 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to have work permits.

Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a solution before the DACA protections are phased out next year. But he also said he wants Congress to deliver a large immigration package that includes not only a fix for the DACA beneficiaries, but also funding for a border wall.

That’s why immigration advocates are already skeptical of the Tillis-Lankford proposal. The legislation is unlikely to be brought to the floor as a stand-alone measure because the Republican authors want to use it to draw Democrats to the table to discuss border security measures.

“Simply, Congress cannot pass any border security package without finding a way to entice a small group of Democrats to join the bill,” the authors argue, based on the talking points.

The proposal has received support from influential leaders in the business community who see it as the best opportunity to protect DACA beneficiaries who will soon be in line for deportation.

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