Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Tuesday filed legislation that would allow people brought into the U.S. illegally as children before 2010 to remain in the country -- a new version of the so-called DREAM Act.
Under the proposed law, immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally before Jan. 1, 2010, and were 16 years old or younger, could follow a path to U.S. citizenship.
The "Recognizing American Children Act" would offer high school graduates without a serious criminal record or dependence on public assistance conditional immigration status for five years. During that time, they could follow one of three ways to remain in the country permanently. If they receive a higher-education degree, serve in the military or remain employed, they could apply for permanent residency -- and, later, citizenship. Those enlisted in the military would get an immediate chance at naturalization.
"There are many young immigrants in our country who came involuntarily with their families as minors. They have grown up with our own kids and attended American schools -- many speaking only English," Curbelo said in a statement. "Today they are trying to make a contribution to our great nation through the economy or the military. These are undoubtedly America's children."
Curbelo filed the legislation with a fellow Republican, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado. Both represent two of the most competitive swing districts in the country, in states with a significant proportion of Hispanic voters. Coffman has received money from Curbelo's political committee, What a Country PAC, intended to support Republican members of Congress who like Curbelo back immigration reform. Curbelo's Westchester-to-Key West district leans in Democrats' favor.
Last month, Curbelo told the Miami Herald he planned to file a new version of the DREAM Act, which failed the Senate in 2010. President Barack Obama later took executive action to defer deportations of many of the people who would have been covered by the legislation.
News of the legislation's filing Tuesday prompted swift opposition from United We Dream, a youth-led immigrant advocacy organization.
"We don't have time for symbolic gestures for a few when our entire community is under xenophobic attacks by political candidates and from Barack Obama's brutal deportation regime," Luiza Duarte Tanuri, a member of the organization's national leadership committee, said in a statement.
Curbelo's plans prompted preemptive criticism from one of the Democrats vying to challenge him in November, former Rep. Joe Garcia, who himself championed immigration reform in his two years in the House. Garcia charged Curbelo with pandering to Hispanics in a year when South Florida Republicans worry presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and his inflammatory immigration rhetoric will turn away Latino voters.
"It is one thing to fight for the immigrant community, but it's another thing to take advantage of their hopes to score political point," Garcia said in a May 13 statement. "Carlos Curbelo wants to introduce a bill that stands no chance of passing precisely because of the Republican leadership that he wholeheartedly backs."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has said his caucus won't take any immigration-related votes this year.
Curbelo and Garcia tussled over the DREAM Act in 2014, the year the Republican ousted the Democrat from Florida's 26th congressional district. Though both said they would have backed the law -- in Curbelo's case bucking his party -- Garcia contended Curbelo wouldn't confront GOP leaders who continued to block legalization efforts.
This year, Garcia, who is in a contested primary against Annette Taddeo, also noted Curbelo's opposition to Obama's executive actions on immigration -- and his support of then-Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who wanted to repeal them. On Tuesday, Taddeo said in a statement that Curbelo's bill "is nothing more than a political stunt to make amends with South Florida's Hispanic community. It's just shameful that Carlos believes South Florida voters will buy into his cheap election year tactic."
Curbelo, who has said he won't vote for Trump, has countered that it's how the president went about the actions -- pushing the boundaries of executive authority -- that has troubled him, rather than the policy to help immigrants legalize their status.
"In a season when some are accentuating our differences for personal political gain, our country should come together to support these hard working young people who have earned their place in America," Curbelo said Tuesday.
--with Alex Daugherty
Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press