Florida Senator Promotes New Dream Act

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, an oft-mentioned name as a running mate to Mitt Romney, wants to push a modified Dream Act to let children of illegal immigrants get legal status in the U.S.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Here's one thing Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio did not address at that meeting today. It's an idea Rubio has floated recently: an alternative to the DREAM Act. That's the measure backed by the White House which would create a path to citizenship for young people brought to the country illegally so long as they go to college or serve in the military. The bill never made it out of Congress. NPR's Tamara Keith explains Rubio's version.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Senator Rubio's alternative DREAM Act doesn't actually exist. At this point it's a set of ideas he's talked about in interviews. It's not on paper. There's no bill language. But it is certainly generating buzz at a time when the GOP is ramping up its efforts to reach out to Latinos. The biggest difference between Rubio's new DREAM Act and the original is Rubio's doesn't guarantee a path to citizenship.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO INTERVIEW)

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: There is a difference between path to citizenship and legalization.

KEITH: This is Rubio in a radio interview with Geraldo Rivera last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO INTERVIEW)

RUBIO: You can legalize someone's status in this country with a significant amount of certainty about their future without placing them on a path towards citizenship, and I think that that is something that we can find consensus on.

KEITH: Rubio's plan would give these young people what's called a nonimmigrant visa, so no green card but the ability to go to college and get a driver's license without worrying about being deported. Here's how Rubio described it at an event last week hosted by National Journal.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO INTERVIEW)

RUBIO: Allows them to continue to contribute to this country. And if they eventually decide that they would like to become residents and therefore - and then thereafter citizens - allow them to do that the same way that anybody else in the world would be able to do it, and that is by accessing the existing route that is now in place.

KEITH: For some, this sounds a whole lot like Senator Rubio wants to take the dream out of the DREAM Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he's willing to work with Republicans on this, but...

SENATOR HARRY REID: I am not going to greet anything that is short of allowing these young men and women to become citizens after they make the sacrifices they do.

KEITH: Some of the undocumented students, known as DREAMers, have come out against it, because it comes up short of the original DREAM Act. But others are withholding judgment.

JUAN ESCALANTE: You know, as time keeps going by and a lot of us keep getting older, you know, comes the realization that at the end of the day what we need is solutions.

KEITH: Juan Escalante is a recent graduate of Florida State University and describes his immigration status as in limbo. He works with a group called DreamActivist.org and says he has mixed feelings about the Rubio alternative.

ESCALANTE: We need to be realistic with our expectations.

KEITH: Expectations might be raised with talk from such a prominent Republican, and Tyler Moran, policy director with the National Immigration Law Center, says she hopes this isn't a case of playing politics with young people's lives.

TYLER MORAN: We're really happy that Senator Rubio has stepped forward to express concerns about the students that would be affected by the DREAM Act. And the question is: If he turns around, who's standing behind him in the Republican Party?

KEITH: Rubio has taken heat for this proposal from both the left and the right, and it's not clear at this point whether he could build enough of a coalition behind it to make something happen. At his press conference today, Mitt Romney was asked if he supports it.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm taking a look at his proposal. It has many features to commend it, but it's something that we're studying.

KEITH: Or in other words, that's not an endorsement - yet. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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