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'Achieve Act' A Republican Answer To Dream Act

Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl held a news conference urging immigration reform on Tuesday. Both are retiring from the Senate next month and both are from red states that could turn blue in the next decade as more and more Latinos become citizens and voters.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And we begin this hour with talk of immigration reform. Dealing with the estimated 12 million immigrants now in the U.S. illegally has long been a priority, primarily of Democrats. Three weeks ago, Latinos voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. As NPR's David Welna reports, Senate Republicans weighed in today, unveiling legislation that would give some undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It was two border state and soon-to-be-retiring Republican Senators who introduced what they're calling the Achieve Act. Arizona's Jon Kyl said it aims to get the ball rolling on immigration.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR JON KYL: What we're basically saying is if you want to go to school, whatever kind of a school will prepare you for a good job, and if you have a job and you keep a job and don't get into trouble in this country, you're going to be here for the rest of your life with a legal status.

WELNA: The GOP proposal, in many ways, parallels the so-called Dream Act sponsored by Democrats and blocked repeatedly by Republicans. Both would allow children brought into the country illegally by their parents to stay. But Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison says the bill she's cosponsoring has stricter requirements.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I think ours is better than the Dream Act because it doesn't allow them to cut in line in front of people who have come and abided by the rules of our laws today.

WELNA: Asked whether Republicans were rushing this legislation out in response to their poor showing among Latinos, Arizona's Kyl denied having electoral motives.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

KYL: Let me say that this is not a Republican push on immigration. This is Senator Hutchison and Senator Kyl introducing legislation that we began working on over a year ago, well before the election.

WELNA: University of Washington political scientist Matt Baretto is cofounder of the polling firm Latino Decisions. He doubts GOP claims that the election has nothing to do with the party's new push on immigration.

MATT BARETTO: If they had been working on this for a long time, we would have seen this bill in the House or the Senate years ago. And I think the election results sent a very clear message to Republicans - and especially those from states with large Latino populations - that they need to have smarter solutions on immigration.

WELNA: Still, at a House reception today for Mexico's president-elect, Enrique Pena Nieto, no Republican leader showed up. California House Democrat Xavier Becerra was there, and he welcomes today's move by Senate Republicans on immigration.

REPRESENTATIVE XAVIER BECERRA: It's good that Republicans are beginning to talk about immigration reform, and so let's get it done. If they've got some ideas, great, let's move forward. We can get this done, the whole package, this coming year.

WELNA: South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham - who's been pushing a broader immigration reform package off and on in the last several years - also hailed this latest initiative.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think it's good for the country to get this issue solved. I just hope that, in a bipartisan way, we can fix broken borders, control who comes here to get a job and deal with the 12 million in a firm, fair way and not have 12 million 20 years from now, get a permanent fix. If we don't, we're letting the country down.

WELNA: Graham's worked with New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer on immigration. Schumer says the bill rolled out today falls far short of what's needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: Look, they didn't consult us, and Speaker Boehner has said he wants comprehensive reform. Let's leave it at that.

WELNA: Lawmakers from both parties agreed there's little chance of anything being done on immigration before the new Congress begins in January. By then, both of the sponsors of today's proposal will have retired. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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