WASHINGTON -- Undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children would be eligible to apply for a quicker path to citizenship, regardless of their current age, under the bill proposed by the Senate's so-called gang of eight and released in full on Wednesday.
The measure is based on the Dream Act, a decade-old bill to give legal status to undocumented young people. But while that bill in its most recent iteration would have left out anyone over the age of 29, the gang of eight bill has no age cap -- a significant victory for the so-called Dreamers, who have long fought for stronger protections, and for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who made strengthening the Dream Act provisions a "top priority" during the group's negotiations, according to his spokesman.
The Dream Act was first introduced in 2001, and has been championed by Durbin ever since. At the time it was first released, he cited the stories of some undocumented young people who were brought to the country as children and who were now unable to become legal residents or citizens.
But as the bill has awaited passage in the intervening years, some of those immigrants have aged out of eligibility under more recent iterations of the act. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama administration policy that allows some undocumented young people to remain in the U.S., also leaves out older undocumented immigrants, with an age cap of 30.
The new gang of eight bill would allow undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to attain lawful permanent resident status more quickly, with a wait time of five years rather the 10 required of others. Dreamers would be eligible if they entered the country under the age of 16, earned a high school diploma or GED here, and attended college for at least two years or served in the military for at least four years.
Under the legislation, Dreamers who have been deported could also apply to reenter the United States, so long as they were in the country prior to 2012 and were not deported for criminal reasons.
Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist and activist who has become a face of the immigration reform movement, wasn't available for deferred action because he is 32 years old. But he said Wednesday that it appears he would be eligible for a Dreamer path to citizenship under the new immigration reform bill, which he said is less than perfect but has "some very good things in it." His organization, Define American, will "keep engaging media stakeholders in elevating how we talk about immigration and humanizing immigrants" by discouraging the use of the term "illegal immigrant," he said.
"[A]s someone who's from the 'elder DREAMer' generation (those of us over age 30 who were educated here in the U.S. and consider America our home) -- I am more than elated," he said in an email. "In my travels around the country talking about immigration reform and asking people how do they define American, I've met numerous DREAMers in their 30s and 40s who tell me, 'I am a DREAMer before there was a DREAM Act. I have a dream, too.' I cannot help but think about all of them today."
Of the 36 Dreamers on the cover of Time magazine last year, four (including Vargas himself) had aged out of deferred action, he said.
Other longtime Dream Act advocates also applauded the decision. Undocumented 28-year-old Gaby Pacheco would have been eligible for the Dream Act -- as would her elder sister, but for the fact that her sister is over the age of 30.
Pacheco said the stronger Dream Act provisions are in part thanks to the Dreamers who "came out" as undocumented and shared their stories. Since the last vote on the Dream Act in 2010, even Republicans who voted against it then, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), have endorsed the idea.
"We've been doing so much work for years now to get to the hearts and minds of people ... even Republican senators, Republican members of the House, they'll say, 'Yes, we'll vote on Dreamers,'" she said. "And I think that's a testament to the work that we've done, but also the power of stories."
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No Age Cap For DREAMers
<a href="http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=b0a97f73-03ff-40a3-9910-45286495cf42" target="_blank"></a>Immigration rights activists are cheering the Gang of 8's decision to include the provisions of the DREAM Act in the immigration bill without including an age cap. Incidentally, that means that journalist and immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who didn't qualify for deferred action, would qualify for a path to citizenship if the new legislation were to pass as currently written. The DREAM Act, as written in the new bill, allows most immigrants who arrived in the United States under age 16 to adjust their immigration status and then apply for naturalization if they have clean criminal records and attend college or serve in the military. <em>IMAGE: FILE - In this file photo taken, Aug. 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signs the Illinois Dream Act into law surrounded by students and supporters of the bill. After keeping a low public profile leading up to the 2012 November election, Quinn now faces one of the most critical times of his tenure where his every move will be scrutinized by Republicans whove said the 2014 governors race is their top priority after devastating losses to the party last week.(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)</em>
Allows Deportees To Reunite With Families
The bill allows <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/immigration-bill-deportation_n_3091272.html" target="_blank">some deportees to return to reunite with their families</a>, a measure that could potentially reunite thousands of undocumented immigrants with their family members in the United States. <em>IMAGE: LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Mitzi Pena, 19, (C) her mother Vlamca Pena (R) her sister Yaretzi Pena, 5, and her cousin Karina Terriquez, 20, (L) wait in line with hundreds of fellow undocumented immigrants at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)</em>
Has A Path To Citizenship
Most undocumented immigrants without criminal records would be able to work legally in the United States within six months, after paying a $500 penalty and back taxes, if owed. After 10 years, they could apply for a green card and after another three years, they could apply for citizenship. <em>IMAGE: WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Immigration activists gather on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for an All In for Citizenship rally April 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Tens of thousands of reform supporters gathered for the rally to call on Congress to act on proposals that would grant a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million of the nation's illegal immigrants. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)</em>
Pathway To Citizenship Contingent Upon "Triggers"
Before undocumented immigrants can solicit legal permanent residency, however, the bill requires the federal government to demonstrate that it has taken steps to boost border security. <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17783040-seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-immigration-bill?lite=&ocid=msnhp&pos=9&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">The "triggers" aren't based on a hard-and-fast metric</a>, but rather require the federal government to submit a plan to ramp up border security and show it to be operational. <em>IMAGE: FILE - The unmanned Predator B taxis back to the hangar in El Mirage, Calif., in this Sept. 6, 2001 file photo, after a test flight over the Mojave Desert. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the expansion of unmanned aircraft flights Wednesday June 23, 2010 to patrol the entire Texas-Mexico border. The Predator B to be used in the patrols can fly for 20 hours without refueling, compared with a helicopter's average flight time of just over two hours. (AP Photo/Doug Benc, File)</em>
Adds New, Merit-Based Visa For High- And Low-Skilled Workers
Those wanting to enter the United States from foreign countries will have to go through a <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17783040-seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-immigration-bill?lite" target="_blank">merit-based evaluation to receive their visa</a>. The bill <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/senate-immigration-bill-includes-new-start-up-visa-lifts-cap-on-highly-skilled-workers/2013/04/16/18bb40c0-a6d7-11e2-8302-3c7e0ea97057_story.html" target="_blank">also includes a new start-up visa for foreign entrepreneurs and a boost</a> for H1-B visas for skilled workers. <em>IMAGE: ANNANDALE, VA - APRIL 28: Arnoldo Borja (L), a community organizer of Virginia Justice Center, talks on his cellular phone on Little River Turnpike where Latino day laborers wait for construction and landscaping jobs April 28, 2006 in Annandale, Virginia. Borja, an immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1989 from Mexico, visits the site every morning to mediate between day laborers, police and local businessmen to help solving any upcoming problems. Fairfax County government is looking currently for a location to create a new official day labor site, and Borja hopes the new center will serve laborers from all over the world and will provide English and Spanish language classes and job training. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) </em>
Pours Billions Into Border Enforcement
The Congressional Budget Office hasn't assess the bill yet, but <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17783040-seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-immigration-bill?lite=&ocid=msnhp&pos=9&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">NBC News puts the bill's cost around $17 billion</a>, mostly related to security. The new bill would focus the federal government's efforts on "high-risk" areas where the border is porous, like stretches of the Arizona desert. The bill sets of a target of stopping <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/16/us-usa-immigration-congress-idUSBRE93F05520130416" target="_blank">90 percent of illegal crossings</a>. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/15-companies-profit-border-security/story?id=18957304#.UW7GDyuSi5w" target="_blank">ABC/Univision compiled a list of 15 companies</a> that profit from border security. <em>IMAGE: A fence runs along the US-Mexico border between the Otay Mesa and San Ysidro ports of entry in and near San Diego, California, across from Tijuana, Mexico (L). The barrier seperating the two countries known to many as the 'border fence' or the 'border wall' is in reality several barriers, designed to prevent illegal movement across the border, backed by supporters and criticized by opponents. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
It's not clear what the system will look like yet, but the bill orders the federal government to design and implement an employment verification system. <em>IMAGE: FILE In this file photo taken April 27, 2009, Latino workers till an asparagus field near Toppenish, Wash., on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Bringing unlikely allies together, a measure being backed by both farmers and immigrant advocacy groups is hoping to slow down the use of a federal immigration program that check's a workers eligibility to work in the U.S. Known as E-Verify, the program has been adopted by 11 cities in Washington state. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)</em>