A Republican version of the DREAM Act was filed this week on the House floor by Florida Rep. David Rivera. Although the Congressman’s version of the bill would not grant citizenship, it would provide a temporary conditional status for undocumented students to pursue their careers.
Rivera said he was inspired by the story of Daniela Pelaez, an 18-year-old undocumented Miami High School valedictorian who is facing deportation. A native from Colombia, Pelaez’ family overstayed their visas.
With a 6.7 GPA and a full ride to Dartmouth University, the scholar stood before her lawyers in support of Rivera’s bill called the Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status or STARS Act.
“Anything is better than nothing and the STARS Act would help a substantial amount of students going to college so it shouldn’t become anything political or the DREAM Act versus the STARS Act,” Pelaez told VOXXI.
The bill would allow undocumented students who are younger than 21 and arrived in the United States before the age of 16, an opportunity to adjust their residency status. Through the process, the students would have to earn a degree at a four-year university and, after applying for a five-year conditional non-immigrant status, they would be eligible to adjust their legal status.
“During that five year period, they can focus on their college education and once they graduate, have their conditional status extended and work toward achieving residency,” said Rivera.
“This legislation can make the American dream a reality for young people like Daniela, who through no fault of their own, are prevented from realizing their full potential in this land of opportunity.”
Yet, there’s skepticism over whether Rivera’s version would have any shot in Congress. The legislation would need to pass through the House judiciary committee. In the past, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and chairman of the committee, has stated he wouldn’t consider the DREAM Act.
Pelaez said she believes the STARS Act is a good selling point for the Democrats and the Republicans despite criticism to the contrary. She explained that, from a legal standpoint, the age limit makes sense considering conservative Republicans will be more at ease on the cap.
Pelaez is scheduled to meet with Smith to push for the legislation.
“In my several conversations with him, he has never expressed outright opposition to the concept of moving forward to this type of legislation,” Rivera told VOXXI.
“He has expressed opposition to the DREAM Act, precisely why I think it’s important to look for real solutions that have the possibility of passing in the 112th Congress and as far as my conversations with Lamar Smith, I still think there is an opportunity.”
A Democratic staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he would be surprised if Rivera got more than two handfuls of Republican supporters. He explained that considering the political climate in Congress, conservative Republicans would only view such legislation as “amnesty.”
“Many Republicans believe anything that gives anybody who is undocumented any legal status whatsoever for even one day, or the ability to work, is amnesty,” said the staffer.
The staffer added that there is a climate of fear that exists in the GOP regarding their conservative allegiance. On the Democratic end, the staffer mentioned that if the proposal had a chance of passage it could lead to discussions. But considering that the STARS version limits the number of students who are eligible, it could actually hurt the chances of the DREAM Act.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had also proposed a Republican version of the legislation, but is still in the process of sorting out the language.
“I don’t know the details of this (Rivera’s) bill. We take a very different approach,” Rubio said during an interview with FOX News.
Like Rivera, Rubio has often said that his bill would not provide a pathway to citizenship. The Senator’s version would provide a non-immigrant visa to undocumented students. By not providing citizenship to undocumented youth, it also prevents them from voting.
Alex Burgos, the Senator’s communication director, said Rubio’s efforts continue to move ahead.
And while Rivera’s proposal is characterized as good-spirited, some already suggest it’s “watered down.”
Juan Escalante, a DREAM Act eligible college graduate, said Rivera’s version misses the point.
“It’s unrealistic that the students will benefit from the get-go when there’s little to no scholarship,” Escalante told VOXXI. “For him to say that everyone needs to graduate from a certain amount of time or that they need to graduate. Not everyone is able to graduate in four years.”
He explained that while speaking with the congressman’s office, he learned that Rivera’s version would not provide for in-state tuition.
Considering the political climate this election year, Escalante also doubts Rivera’s version will have any realistic chance.
“It’s like a shot in the dark,” said Escalante.