After President Barack Obama dominated Mitt Romney among Latino voters in the 2012 election, winning the fast-growing demographic by a massive 71- to 27-percent margin, Republicans are finally acknowledging that they have a serious problem among Latinos. Romney and the GOP seemed to go out of their way to drive these voters away during the campaign, promising to use Arizona’s controversial “show me your papers” law as a national model, end bilingual education, and veto the DREAM Act, among other far-right positions that ended up costing them on Election Day.
In an effort to mitigate the damage, retiring Republican senators Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have introduced the “ACHIEVE Act.” The bill is designed to be an alternative to the popular DREAM Act, which would provide residency and an eventual path to citizenship to certain immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and complete a four-year college education or two years of military service.
The ACHIEVE Act would allow those who arrived in the United States before the age of 14 to obtain visas that would provide them with legal residency after completing schooling or military service — but, crucially, would not provide any path to citizenship. For many Hispanic leaders, this is a deal-breaker.
At a Wednesday press conference, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus slammed Kyl and Hutchison’s bill. “The problem with the ACHIEVE Act is it does not achieve the dream,” said New Jersey senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) concurred, saying the proposal was “too little, too late.”
When confronted about his bill’s lack of a path to citizenship, Kyl dismissed the complaints by claiming that young immigrants could marry their way into citizenship:
“Realistically, young people frequently get married. In this country, the biggest marriage pool are U.S. citizens. A U.S. citizen can petition for a spouse to become a citizen in a very short time,” Kyl claimed. “I don’t think it’s any big secret that a lot of people who might participate in this program are going to have a very quick path to citizenship, if that’s the path they choose.”
In addition to being factually incorrect, Kyl’s “solution” is unlikely to improve the perception that his party is not sympathetic to the concerns of the Latino community.