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Dreamers' Path to Citizenship: Obtain a Degree or Serve in the Military to Remain in the U.S., Congress Says

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First Posted: Feb 06, 2014 03:41 PM EST
May Day March for Immigration Reform
A photo taken from the May 1 March/rally for immigration reform, with the Trail of Dreams and Rep. Luis Gutierrez. (Photo : Flickr/Justin Valas)

House Republicans are paving a "path to citizenship" with a specified two-way street, offering the opportunity for "dreamers" to remain in the U.S. -- only if they earn a college degree or serve in the military, TakePart reports.

On the other hand, undocumented adults (dreamers' parents) won't be afforded the same opportunity if they aren't able to pass several financial, cultural and linguistic obstacles.

"The position, released last week as part of the GOP's immigration reform 'principles,' showed only a minor softening in the Republican hard-line stance against creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants residing illegally in the country," TakePart adds.

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While the one-page document isn't a giant leap, showing that Republicans remain stern on their stance that allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens is in essence "rewarding lawbreakers and unfair to those who came to the country legally," they offered "an exception to the estimated 1.4 million young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, known as 'dreamers.'"

"One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that," the document said.

Comparable to the Republican's proposal is a bill pending in the House called the Military Enlistment Opportunity Act, which has been critisized by opponents, claiming it exploits immigrants' hopes by using them to fight wars, TakePart points out. "Legal immigrants currently can earn citizenship through service in the armed forces. Some 30,000 foreign nationals serve in the military, and some 8,000 foreign-born people, mostly permanent residents, enlist every year. A new program allows people with temporary visas to join up and earn citizenship too."

The college route for dreamers can be financially challenging as well -- "the average annual tuition this year at a state college is $22,826, and it's $44,750 at a private school," according to collegedata.com, TakePart adds.

According to the document, the GOP will seek a solution that allows immigrants to "come forward and get right with the law," "but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)." In addition, it says, "criminal aliens, gang members and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program."

"These standards are as far as we are willing to go," House Speaker John Boehner told his fellow Republicans last week, according to a spokesman, MSNBC reports. "Nancy Pelosi said (last week) that for her caucus, it is a special path to citizenship or nothing. If Democrats insist on that, then we are not going to get anywhere this year.

"The 'no special path' language leaves them with considerable room to negotiate, since it doesn't explicitly call for banning immigrants from applying for citizenship through existing channels. Depending on how an eventual law is constructed, an estimated 4.4 million to 6.5 million immigrants might eventually gain citizenship, according to one non-partisan think tank's estimate -- including 1.5 million DREAMers," MSNBC adds.

"The Senate's bill, which includes a 13-year minimum path to citizenship for most qualifying immigrants, would result in about 8 million people gaining citizenship, according to the Congressional Budget Office."

How do Hispanic advocacy groups feel about the proposal?

"The GOP's movement is a good signal of its intent, said Laura Vazquez, immigration legislative analyst for the National Council of La Raza. 'There's movement in the House to complete the job the Senate started,'" TakePart reports.

"Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, praised the Republicans' citizenship path for dreamers. She said she was dismayed by other proposals, however, noting that the suggested path to legalization would be 'unaffordable and attainable' for many.

"'Unfortunately, too many of the proposals outlined today remind us only of ghosts of anti-immigrant bills past,'" Hincapie said. "'The GOP has begun the conversation. We hope it grows into a dialogue.'"

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