RALEIGH – On Monday, Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) filed legislation that would set up a new system of tougher work/study requirements and criminal record checks for DACA recipients to get or keep legal status. The SUCCEED Act is a merit-based program for children of illegal immigrants. Co-sponsored by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), the bill would require applicants undergo a criminal background check and take one of three tracks to legal status: education, employment, or military service. Tillis and Lankford emphasized that the proposal doesn’t allow them to “jump the line” to citizenship or give protection to their family members, often called “chain migration.”
“It’s setting a timeline out there that is 15 years at the earliest to pursue naturalization,” said Tillis.
“We think hundreds of thousands, maybe more than a million could be eligible for this program, but we also have to set a high bar and send a clear message that people wanting to come to this country should consider doing it legally,” he added.
According to the bill sponsors the SUCCEED Act is a compassionate and fair plan designed to address the key sticking points of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a system set up in 2012 by executive order under former President Barack Obama. DACA protected nearly 800,000 people brought into the U.S. illegally as children. The measure led to an influx of illegal immigration in 2012 as people brought their kids into the country. President Trump set a sunset on DACA earlier this month, giving Congress six months to come up with an answer.
“Overall, our findings suggest that 1.8 million immigrants would be immediately eligible to apply for legal status under the SUCCEED Act, if it were passed. Up to 2.6 million could eventually be eligible in total,” Karl Smith and Jeremy Nuefeld, policy analysts, The Niskanen Center.
Under the proposal, undocumented children who arrived before age 16 and before June 2012, when DACA was enacted, can apply for Conditional Permanent Residence (CPR). When they turn 18 and have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, they can apply for a five-year renewal.
After five years, they must commit to either maintaining employment for 48 out of 60 months, earning a post-secondary or vocational degree, or serving honorable in the military for three years. When one of the three tracks is complete, they can re-apply for conditional status. If the participant has maintained their CPR status for ten years, they can apply for a green card, or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status. After five years with a green card, they can apply to be a naturalized citizen.
“During that 15-year timeframe they have access to work, access to school, access to travel, so they have those basic freedoms in place, that individuals on DACA do not have right now,” Lankford said. “We want to create some sort of permeance but put them in the line so they can go through the process.”
SUCCEED stands for Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our nation. In addition to requiring one of three merit-based tracks, it also requires that tax liabilities be paid off to get, and keep, legal status. SUCCEED also tightening enforcement policy on visa overstays, the primary avenue for illegal immigration.
Bill sponsors say most DACA recipients should qualify if they have a clean criminal record. They cannot have been convicted of a felony or a “major misdemeanor” including domestic violence, sexual abuse, burglary, unlawful possession of a firearm, drug distribution or driving under the influence.
Tillis and Lankford are working with Senate leadership to determine the bill’s path through committee and say they have Trump’s verbal approval on the basic concepts in the bill. According to those close to the process, they have been working on the proposal for months, soliciting buy-in from stakeholders on both sides of the aisle, immigration experts and DACA opponents and supporters. They emphasized that it must be part of a larger policy package that includes border security to crackdown on human trafficking and drug running along the nation’s borders.
“We don’t believe the SUCCEED Act is a stand-alone bill,” said Lankford. “This is the moment to be able to resolve things like border security, E-verify, how do we handle our visa program…when we resolve this issue for DACA children, we should resolve the larger issues of immigration too.”
Urging people to “check their biases at the door,” Tillis said that variations of The Dream Act, most recently introduced in July By Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have been tried many times and would not pass Congress.
“The reality is amnesty doesn’t work,” said Tillis. “It failed famously back in 1986. This is a path that admittedly allows someone to go through the naturalization process, but we think that it is a balanced resolution to a vexing problem that hasn’t been solved for 30 years. And we’ll have to take the hits. We’ll take the hits from the far left who are saying you’re not giving them citizenship soon enough, and you’ll take them from the far right who say you’ve given them an opportunity to pursue citizenship.”