June 12, 2018 10:49AM

Comparing Pathways to Status & Citizenship Under House Bills

Moderate House Republicans may force a vote on immigration this month. The resolution that could do so would require House leadership to bring to the floor the Securing America’s Future (SAF) Act with the opportunity to provide four amendments “in the nature of a substitute,” meaning that the amendments would effectively be replacement bills. The resolution specifies that the four amendments will be offered by:

  1. SAF Act (H.R.4760) sponsor Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA);
  2. Dream Act sponsor (H.R. 3440) Rep. Lucille Roybal‐​Allard (D-CA);
  3. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) who has not sponsored or cosponsored any legislation on the issue but could use the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act (H.R. 1468) that has proven most popular among moderate Republicans; and
  4. USA Act (H.R. 4797) cosponsor Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA).

The table below compares these proposals.

Table: Pathways to Status & Citizenship Under House Bills and DACA

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Update (6/13/2018): the SAF Act doesn’t permit enrollment of TPS beneficiaries

Summary of Pathways

Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760)

The SAF Act is the dominant choice among House Republicans on the right with 97 Republican cosponsors and no Democrats. It is also the stingiest of the pathways, legalizing the fewest people and providing the worst status at the highest cost. It maintains the same basic criteria as DACA, which was created six years ago by an act of prosecutorial discretion and never intended as a blueprint for permanent legislative reform. In addition, it requires that the immigrants already be enrolled in DACA, meaning that anyone who was too young to apply, couldn’t afford to apply, or was otherwise unable to apply or renew would be excluded. Like DACA, the bill caps the age of applicants at 37 and requires more than 11 years of residency, and the status in the bill is temporary (3 years) and must be renewed. It will not lead to permanent residency and citizenship, and it prohibits them from applying for permanent residency if they crossed the border illegally.

In addition, it adds many new obstacles to legal status, including a minimum income requirement and other bars to status. If they violate any conditions of status such as school enrollment or work, the bill provides that they can be criminally prosecuted. By requiring an in‐​person interview, the repayment of certain lawfully obtained tax credits, and the payment of a $1,000 fine to go to border security, the cost of obtaining and maintaining status in the bill would be much higher than DACA. Cost has already prevented many Dreamers from applying for DACA, and this bill would give them just one year to apply (the other bills don’t limit the time to apply). This pathway is likely to exclude many DACA recipients. Because the status is temporary, these costs would escalate over time.

It is important to note that the rest of the bill reduces the number of green cards—permanent legal immigration—by almost 40 percent, making it more difficult for Dreamers to receive legal permanent residency from the normal immigration channels, and it would spend more on border security in 5 years than in Border Patrol’s history.

The Dream Act (H.R. 3440)

The Dream Act is the dominant choice among Democrats with 197 Democrats and just six Republicans as cosponsors. This bill is the most expansive pathway, legalizing the most people and providing the best status at the lowest cost. It expands the criteria for DACA to anyone who arrived at age 18 or under (compared to 16) who arrived more than 4 years ago (rather than 11 years). It would remove DACA’s maximum age limit, allowing those older than 37 to apply. The Dream Act also allows immigrants in Temporary Protective Status to apply. It would waive state or local criminal offenses related to one’s immigration status (such as driving without a license). 

In addition, the Dream Act provides for a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for Dreamers. In order to receive permanent residency, Dreamers would have to have worked for 3 years, attended college for 2 years, or worked for the military for 2 years. They would also have to pass the naturalization exam, showing that they have a knowledge of U.S. history and are literate in English. Dreamers would have eight years to complete these requirements. It contains no changes to legal immigration or border security.

Recognizing America’s Children Act (H.R. 1468)

The RAC Act is the dominant choice among moderate Republicans with 34 Republicans and one Democrat as cosponsors. RAC is more restrictive than the Dream Act, but much more open than the SAF Act. It would reduce DACA’s minimum presence requirement to 6 years and 6 months of residency (before January 1, 2012) from 11 years under DACA, and it opens enrollment up to Dreamers older than 37. It would also allow those too young to be in high school to apply, which is better than the Dream Act, and it would let some legal immigrant Dreamers in E-2 nonimmigrant status to apply—also an improvement on the Dream Act.

RAC would also provide a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship, but to a smaller segment of the Dreamer population than the Dream Act. It would require that Dreamers graduate college, work for 48 months, or work for the military for 3 years in a five‐​year period to extend their conditional status for another 5 years. They would then have 5 more years to complete the requirements for naturalization in order to receive permanent residency: demonstrate proficiency in English and knowledge of U.S. history.

The USA Act (H.R. 4797)

The USA Act is the only bipartisan legislation with 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats as cosponsors. The USA Act maintains similar criteria to the Dream Act, but would require 4 years and at least 6 months of residency (before December 31, 2013) compared to 4 years for the Dream Act. Like the Dream Act, it would allow anyone who arrived before age 18 to legalize (compared to 16 for the other bills). It would also allow some TPS recipients to benefit from its provisions.

Also like the Dream Act, the USA Act has a generous pathway to legal permanent residency and citizenship on the same terms: 2 years in college, 3 years working, or 2 years in the military. Like the SAF Act, it does attach some border security measures, but unlike that bill, the measures are modest and relatively inexpensive. It also makes no changes to the legal immigration system.

Potential Beneficiaries

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has produced  estimates of the potentially eligible populations for the permanent residency under the Dream Act (1.7 million), the RAC Act (1.4 million), and the American Hope Act (3.6 million). The American Hope Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for all noncriminal immigrants who entered as minors before 2017, regardless of education level, so this estimate effectively provides the total Dreamer population in the United States. MPI has not analyzed the SAF Act or the USA Act, but the USA Act is almost exactly the same as the Dream Act (just requiring a few more months of residency). The SAF Act would cover only those with current DACA permits, about 700,000. But it adds a minimum income requirement and a large number of other restrictions that would reduce this number considerably.

Thus, no plan currently under consideration for debate under the discharge petition would, even in theory, provide a pathway to citizenship for a majority of Dreamers. In practice, as I’ve noted before, some portion of the potentially eligible populations will not apply due to financial limitations or other reasons.