Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson from Texas and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl have introduced a new plan for immigration reform called the Achieve Act that grants legal status, but not citizenship, to young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents. Regina Jefferies, immigration attorney and chair of the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, talks about the proposal.
Jose Cardenas: Two retiring Republican Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchinson from Texas and our own Arizona senator Jon Kyl, have introduced a new plan for immigration reform that grants legal status but not citizenship to young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents. Joining me to talk about this proposal, as well as the latest on the lawsuit ACLU filed seeking to overturn governor Jan Brewer's order denying driver's licenses who have received work permits under President Obama's deferred action policy, is immigration attorney Regina Jefferies, who chairs the Arizona chapter of the American immigration lawyers association. Welcome back to "Horizonte." Lots happening post-election on the immigration front, a lot of talk, a lot of proposals and maybe not necessarily a surprise but you had these two Republican Senators who are retiring coming up with something called the Achieve act. Is this a good thing?
Regina Jefferies: Well, I think it's certainly encouraging that Congress is looking at immigration reform. I think two years ago, if you had told me that this was happening, I probably would think you were crazy. But I think that this is, it's definitely an encouraging sign and it's a sign that Congress sees they need to get serious about solving this issue. Whether it's a good thing ultimately for dreamers who are here, no, it's not. It's definitely not the best solution. It's not actually a real solution at all. What it essentially does is it creates sort of a permanent sort of underclass, essentially, a permanent class of individuals that aren't able to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens.
Jose Cardenas: So it's not just that they can't become citizens. They can't get permanent residency?
Regina Jefferies: What it actually does is they couldn't get permanent residency through the program itself. And Jon Kyl actually mentioned this as well that they could become permanent residents, maybe based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen or through other means. But the act itself would not give individuals a path to remain in the U.S. permanently, which is extremely problematic when you are talking about a group of kids that has essentially been living as Americans their entire lives.
Jose Cardenas: This is not a comprehensive immigration proposal. This is focusing on the group that we refer to as the dreamers because of the various versions of the Dream Act that have been proposed. This in many represents, while it's encouraging people are talking about it, seems to be a step backward.
Regina Jefferies: I think that, you know, it's maybe a first shot. And a first proposal from a couple of Republican Senators that are retiring, as you mentioned. And maybe it's to gauge reaction. But I think, you know, it's not necessarily a step backwards in the sense that at least they're talking about it. I don't think this is going to be any type of permanent solution, obviously. I don't think this is what we'll end up with because there's such huge support for a Dream Act that is more comprehensive than this, that would actually allow kids who are brought here as minors to be able to eventually become permanent residents, to remain in the U.S. permanently, and to possibly become citizens if they meet the criteria. But you can't have a law that would essentially recognize that, yes, these kids are going to stay here and contribute, but we're not really going to allow them to stay on a permanent basis. They're just being to be able to stay in a permanent limbo.
Jose Cardenas: In years past, the Dream Act, which of all the various immigration proposals is far more popular with more people in the country, has sort of been held hostage to comprehensive immigration reform. And the natural assumption that fix the whole thing and make that part of it. Do you think that's going to happen again?
Regina Jefferies: I'm not sure. I think it remains to be seen what's going to happen in the next Congress. I think Congress has a lot of issues on its plate for the next session. I do think we are in a very different place than we were four, six years ago with the immigration conversation. I think many people recognize that this is something that's not going to go away, that does need to be addressed in a constructive way.
Jose Cardenas: Part of the motivation being the huge Latino turnout for Democrats.
Regina Jefferies: Certainly that has pushed it to the forefront. I think that that's definitely part of the conversation and this is a growing block of individuals who don't only care about immigration but when you are talking about a group of individuals that may have firsthand experience with a family member who may not be able to get immigration status or something like that, real firsthand knowledge of the situation and the harm that it can do, I mean it's definitely going to make an impact in voting patterns.
Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about what's going on in Arizona. That same group of people, students who under the, it was actually the Department of Homeland security that issued the order that allows them to obtain deferred action status, and thereby obtain work permits and at least under Arizona state law is worded, driver's licenses. The governor decide she's not going to let that happen.
Regina Jefferies: Right.
Jose Cardenas: And the ACLU has filed suit. Tell us about that.
Regina Jefferies: Well, I think one of the interesting things, the ACLU lawsuit actually is filed in Federal court so it focuses on the federal civil rights claims, equal protection and due process and that type of thing. What you are mentioning with the governor's order and what state law currently says is that individuals who are in, who have lawful authority to be here given by the Federal government are allowed to apply for driver's licenses and these kids are no different. Under state law it is allowed. In fact, there were some recent news reports, I think Arizona channel 12 about how the state of Arizona is continuing and has in the past given driver's licenses to individuals who are authorized to be in the U.S. with these work permits. However, they are not in lawful status.
Jose Cardenas: And those are terms of art. I think a lot of people would say what's the difference between lawful presence and lawful status. Lawful presence is what the Arizona statutes refer to. As you point out people who have had deferred action in the past have been considered to be here lawfully. And therefore entitled to driver's licenses and so forth.
Regina Jefferies: Yes.
Jose Cardenas: So why would the governor take the position that she's taken? She seems to be blaming it on the Federal government. She seems to be treating these deferred action people differently.
Regina Jefferies: That's exactly the point. That this group of individuals is essentially being singled out. And to be honest with you, it's a lot of politics. If you look at the history, if you look at the date that the order was issued, it happened on the first day that individuals could apply for deferred action under the Department of Homeland security's announcement. I don't think there's really much else going on here. Because her order certainly isn't based on the law.
Jose Cardenas: Just a quick update on that process of applying for deferred action by these people. How is it going? Are we seeing a lot of people out there applying for and receiving deferred action?
Regina Jefferies: There have been many, many applications, at this point over 300,000 people have applied.
Jose Cardenas: How many in Arizona?
Regina Jefferies: That's, it's hard to say. Because I don't keep numbers based on each state as far as I know. I do know that there are potentially 50,000 or 60,000 people here who could be eligible to apply for deferred action. I think it's probably safe to say that a large number of individuals in Arizona have applied.
Jose Cardenas: Regina, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this issue. Hope to have you back soon.