The ACHIEVE Act: Too much and too little?

Earlier this week, Allahpundit broke out a first look at the GOP alternative to the DREAM Act, which Republicans apparently began working on before the ink was even dry on the Obama win headlines. Since that time, the draft has been making the rounds on the Hill and more people have had time to kick the tires on it a bit. Now being called the ACHIEVE Act, it proposes some alterations to current Visa status (the W-1 Visa) which would offer different people varying paths to citizenship over a period of time providing they achieved certain goals or met specific criteria. From the original Matt Lewis article which AP linked, here are a few of those details.

  • W-1 visa status would allow an immigrant to attend college or serve in the military (they have six years to get a degree). After doing so, they would be eligible to apply for a four-year nonimmigrant work visa (also can be used for graduate degrees.)
  • Next, applicants would be eligible to apply for a permanent visa (no welfare benefits.) Finally, after a set number of years, citizenship “could follow…”
  • “Applicant must have lived in the U.S. for five year’s prior to the Act’s enactment”;
  • Must have entered the country before age 14
  • Must have good moral character
  • “Applicant must not have committed a felony, must not have committed more than one misdemeanor with a jail term of more than 30 days, must not have committed a crime of moral turpitude, and must not have a final order of removal pending”‘
  • Must have knowledge of the English language, U.S. history, “and of principles of U.S. government”
  • Applicant must be 28 or younger at time of application (or 32 if they have a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. college);
  • Must pay a $525 fee
  • Must submit to a medical exam and a background check, submit biometric and biographic data, and register with the Selective Service.

I have a couple of thoughts on this, but first let’s hear from Mark Krikorian at The Corner, who has a rather curious take on the proposal.

My concerns with the newly leaked alternative to the DREAM Act, which Katrina outlined below, is that it’s at once too restrictive and too expansive.

On the restrictive side, the proposal would limit the amnesty to those who earn a degree or serve in the military for four years. This means that someone who was brought here at three months old, has lived nowhere else, and knows no Spanish, but just isn’t bookish (or fit for the military) would be excluded. Since the humanitarian rationale for some version of the DREAM Act is that it would legalize those whose identities have been formed here and who are psychologically and emotionally Americans, this limitation seems to me inappropriate, even unjust…

But the Rubio draft is also too expansive in a number of ways. First, it sets the age of initial (illegal) entry to before the 15th birthday. That’s better than 16, as in the original DREAM Act, but since the rationale for the law is to legalize those who really have no memory of any other country, people who came as teenagers are simply not appropriate candidates for the amnesty. Lowering the age of initial entry to seven (the age of reason in canon and common law), or at least to ten, would be much more defensible.

He has more on each side of the ACHIEVE Act’s deficiencies, so read the rest. For me, this is something of a mixed bag. I’ve always been of the opinion that successful, honorable military service where you keep your nose clean and do your job is one of – if not the only – exceptions where it seems viable to give people “head of the line” privileges in terms of naturalization. But this proposal seems to simply lump them in with everyone else. If we’re going to do this, I wouldn’t put the veterans on a ten year or more path after discharge. The long delay times and varying classes of legal, non-citizen status ameliorate some of the damage, as opposed to an immediate promotion to citizenship while allowing them to get on the books, pay taxes and contribute. But only some.

This process doesn’t remove the inherently unfair nature of allowing those who broke the rules to live here in America, safe inside the system, while those who remain outside attempting to do it the right way are still kept out, living in whatever conditions they seek to escape. Maybe it’s a solution, but it’s not a fair one, in my opinion.

I also do not equate “going to college” here with serving in the military in terms of service and sacrifice to the nation you wish to join. Getting an education to better yourself is admirable to be sure, but it’s simply not on par with putting on a uniform and spending four or six years risking your life for your new country in a war zone.

And, “good moral character?” What does that mean and who is the judge of it? Howard Stern?

The phrase, “Must have knowledge of the English language, U.S. history, and of principles of U.S. government” isn’t a show stopper, but I’d definitely want to see the full definitions of what is required to make it over that bar.

And last, I definitely agree with Krikorian that setting the maximum age of entry at 14 is too high. I thought the main idea here was for the proposed act to embrace those brought here by their parents with no control of their own, raised in our country and living in our society with our values. Right here in the United States, by the age of 14 we have kids in more economically disadvantaged areas who are already fully enmeshed in gang life and doing jail time by the age of 14. I too would put the cap at around seven years of age, with preference given to those who arrived as infants and toddlers.

All in all, we may be on the path to passing something like this to a degree where this bell can’t be unrung. But even if so, it needs to be approached intelligently and fairly. I don’t know if this first draft is anywhere near that level yet.

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