Republicans Rushing to Construct New Immigration Reforms

Multiple GOP lawmakers are rushing to build new immigration bills, but Democrats say their current ideas are more of the same.

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A recent election review conducted by the RNC highlighted the need for the party to expand its base and particularly its appeal among Latinos, the fastest growing demographic in the United States.

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A growing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill are itching to get their fingerprints on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will garner bipartisan support.

In the three weeks since Latino voters came out in overwhelming support of President Barack Obama, the GOP has signaled it's ready to take the lead. Yet Democrats say Republican plans are so far no more than a legislative sideshow.

Republicans will vote on the STEM Jobs Act Friday, which would make it easier for international students with graduate degrees in math, science and engineering to obtain a green card. And the willingness of leadership to bring it to the floor during fiscal cliff negotiations signals a commitment from House Speaker John Boehner to make immigration reform a major priority.

But there is a catch.

The bill has made House Democrats uneasy because the legislation increases the number of work visas for STEM students while eliminating the Diversity Visa program, which encourages individuals from countries with fewer immigrants to come to the United States.

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"I took a closer look at what the Republicans are actually proposing. They haven't turned a corner at all. In fact, they haven't even stepped out of their houses. They certainly didn't learn anything from the election," says Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez. "Sadly, this bill isn't even a step. It's a shuffle. It's a shell game."

In the Senate, Democrats again came down hard on Republican attempts to move forward on immigration reform.

Retiring Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Kyl introduced the "Achieve Act" this week, which would give legal status, not a path to citizenship, for kids brought to the United States by their parents.

"It allows them to be here legally, get their education and not live in fear that they are going to be deported," Hutchison says.

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But Democrats say the bill does not go far enough.

The legislation allows young people under the age of 28 who came to the United States before they turned 14 to stay in the country to pursue higher education opportunities or serve in the military. The bill shares many similarities with the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation sponsored by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, which stalled in Congress.

"Ours is better than the Dream Act because it doesn't allow them to cut in line," Hutchison said. "It doesn't keep them from applying under the rules today, but it doesn't give them a special preference before those who have waited in line for years to get into the citizenship track."

Because the lead sponsors are retiring in a matter of weeks, its likely the bill will simply be a starting point for Republicans, but Hutchison says that was exactly the intention all along.

"Having it in bill form and filing it as a bill is a starting point," Hutchison says.

Hutchison says she has spoken with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and her replacement, Texas Republican Senator-elect Ted Cruz, to carry the torch once she retires.

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But Sen. Marco Rubio has his own plans for immigration reform. Rubio is expected to reveal another alternative to the DREAM Act early in the 113th Congress.

"Sen. Rubio is still developing his own alternative to the Dream Act, and he intends to introduce it in the new Congress once he's confident it will win broad bipartisan support and be signed into law," a Rubio spokesman says.

With the House led by Republicans and the Senate still held by Democrats, experts agree any bill will need both parties' blessings.

In the House, bipartisan plans are already taking shape behind closed doors. A group of legislators including Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and California Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Xavier Becerra has met multiple times in the last several weeks to discuss comprehensive immigration legislation that they started working on two years ago.