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House Republicans: Dreamers Might Get Citizenship, Parents Shouldn't

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is working with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on the KIDS Act to give legal status to some young undocumented immigrants. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) | AP
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WASHINGTON -- House Republicans made clear on Tuesday that some are open to allowing Dreamers, the young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, to become citizens. Their parents, though, may be left out in the cold.

"I do not believe that parents who made the decision to illegally enter the U.S. while forcing their children to join them should be afforded the same treatment as these kids," Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said at an immigration subcommittee hearing. "Because let's be clear -- parents bringing their young children to the U.S. illegally is not something we want to encourage."

The hearing comes after Goodlatte and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced they are working on a bill, tentatively named the KIDS Act, to offer Dreamers a path to citizenship. The legislators haven't yet released any details of their bill, including the cutoff age for Dreamers and what would be required for children to secure citizenship.

While the bill is still just a concept, it's already receiving praise and criticism from both sides -- particularly from Democrats who say the piecemeal approach is unfair and calling it a smokescreen for Republicans' refusal to address the broader undocumented population.

Dreamers have already rejected the idea of Congress addressing them and not their families. Rosa Velázquez, a Dreamer and advocate with United We Dream, said during testimony at the hearing that her mother, Rosalinda, deserves an opportunity to earn citizenship.

"Do we really want to ignore the values that history has taught us by giving our parents 'sit at the back of the bus'- type of legalization?" she asked.

Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion published a scathing editorial earlier on Tuesday criticizing the KIDS Act, which Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer posted to Twitter with the comment, "La Opinion nails the cruel hypocrisy of the GOP immigration plan: allow some kids to stay but deport their parents." Obama has said that immigration reform should be comprehensive.

Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) went after Pfeiffer later when thanking the witnesses for their testimony.

"When I see quotes like I did today from someone named Dan Pfeiffer, who apparently works for the president ... he tweeted out today that our plan is to allow some kids to stay but deport their parents," he said. "He summarized this entire debate with that tweet. So I want to compliment you and thank you for not being a demagogic, self-serving political hack."

Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), a member of the committee, did not close the door on Democrats voting against the KIDS Act to demand a comprehensive approach.

"If the Dreamers have the courage to stand up against this farcical piece of legislation, which of course prevents their pathway forward, we have to have the courage and vision to do what's right for our nation and to make sure that we have a solution to the immigration problem and not a legislative gimmick," he said at a press conference Tuesday with Dreamers and advocacy groups.

At the hearing, Republicans seemed to disagree that it was a gimmick. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), appearing as a witness, spoke strongly against any legalization for undocumented young people that included or led to citizenship for their parents.

"Any legislation that would address these children would need to be solely for the benefit of the child, and no one else," Gardner said. "It cannot elicit chain migration. ... While these children remain innocent, we cannot reward those family members who have broken the law."

It is not even certain that the yet-to-be-drafted KIDS Act could gain majority support among Republicans, meaning if Democrats decided to vote against it, it might not pass at all. The Dream Act, which would address undocumented young people, received only eight Republican votes in favor and 160 against when it passed in the House in 2010. More recently, House Republicans voted to defund an Obama-administration program that allows undocumented young people reprieve from deportation.

You wouldn't necessarily know it from the hearing, however; it was stocked with largely pro-reform witnesses. The members who spoke -- Gardner, along with Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) -- are all either supporters of reform or considered persuadable on the issue. Each representative spoke positively about legalizing undocumented young people, either through the KIDS Act or a bill to allow legal status through military service.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Judiciary Committee member, said in his opening statement that he would have liked to hear more views against the bill during testimony. He made up for the witness's openness to legalization by restating his strong opposition. He said he expected witnesses to justify their support by saying, ""We'll just do this little sliver here because this one tugs at our heart."

"It tugs at my heart, too," he continued. "But I listen to the subcommittee chairman's statement and it says he wants to remedy that will last a lifetime. I think we have a higher responsibility than that. I think we have to preserve the rule of law so that this country can last many many generations into the future."

King told Newsmax last week that Dreamers shouldn't be legalized because many are drug smugglers.

"For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he said. “Those people would be legalized with the same act."

Beyond whether a Dream Act-style bill could pass, there was some indication from witnesses that Republicans are more willing to look at legalization for undocumented young people who want to join the military. Coffman and Denham both focused on would-be military service members in their testimonies, rather than undocumented immigrants who hope to go to college or find other work.

"There's no better way than putting your life on the line for this country to become an American citizen," Denham said.

Gutierrez expressed hope during his testimony that his colleagues would come around to the idea of broader legalization options for undocumented immigrants.

"I am optimistic that once you take one step towards justice, you will take a second one, and a third and as many steps as it takes," he said. "I want us all to walk there together. Once you see that standing up for young and talented immigrants feels good and right, you will want to stand also for the parents who raised and nurtured them."

This story has been updated to add comment from Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy.

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