GOP Alternative to DREAM Act Sets Up Intraparty Clash

A Republican effort to push an alternative to the DREAM Act is already showing signs of sparking party infighting just as the GOP is trying to court Hispanic voters heading into November.

Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) introduced on Wednesday the Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status Act, or STARS. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

It would stop deportation and grant alien conditional nonimmigrant status to those who have been in the U.S. at least five years at the time of the bill's enactment, were brought to the U.S. younger than 16 years old, have earned a high school diploma or GED, have been admitted to an accredited four-year college, and are of "good moral character."

Upon graduation, a student could apply for a five-year visa renewal, followed by applying for permanent residency and eventually citizenship.

It's stricter than the long-suffering DREAM Act, which states that children illegally brought to the U.S. before they were 15 must complete two years of higher education, no graduation required, or two years of military service. Rivera separately introduced in January a bill to deal with the latter aspect, the Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act.

Rivera, who has been crafting the bill since March, said he was inspired to develop the STARS Act by Daniela Pelaez, a constituent who was with Rivera on the Hill when he introduced the bill. Pelaez was brought from Colombia at age 4, her family stayed after their visas expired, and she has been facing a deportation order. She graduates next week as valedictorian of her class at North Miami Senior High School and plans to attend Dartmouth College; the Obama administration kicked the can on her case by deferring any action on deportation proceedings for two years.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) also stepped into the case on Pelaez's behalf, writing U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement and requesting the stay of deportation.

“This bill provides an opportunity for young people, like Daniela, who have established long-standing ties in the United States, and who have excelled academically, an opportunity to fulfill their goals of getting an education and achieving the American dream," Rivera said when announcing that his bill would soon be introduced.

Rivera noted that under current law, kids brought into the country illegally start accruing penalty time at 18.5 years of age, which leads to prohibitions from reentering the country for years.

"The STARS Act would give these students who seek to further their education an opportunity to get a degree at an American university and earn legal status," the congressman said. “However, the STARS Act does not ensure automatic suspension of removal or automatic residency. …If the applicant fails to meet the necessary criteria, their conditional non-immigrant status will be revoked."

Rivera's legislation, however, was quickly criticized by his Republican colleague from Iowa, Rep. Steve King, who called it a DREAM Act by a different name.

"The immigration laws of this country have been ignored by millions of illegal aliens," King said. "I don't believe in rewarding lawbreakers with a path to citizenship. While I do have sympathy for those who may have come to this country illegally with their parents when they broke the law, our country cannot afford to make concessions in immigration policy. The Rule of Law is a much higher priority."

"First we must secure our borders, shut off the jobs and benefits magnets that attract illegal aliens to the U.S., and enforce the immigration laws that are already on the books," King added.