SALT LAKE CITY — Calling some immigration laws "stupid," Sen. Orrin Hatch backed legislation Monday that would provide undocumented children a path to U.S. citizenship.
"Look, I'm tired of this problem," the Utah Republican said at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
"These are young people who are in limbo. It's not fair to them," he said. "Many of them have proven themselves as decent, honorable people who would make great citizens in this country. We're providing a means whereby they could get there."
Hatch joined Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and James Lankford, R-Okla., to introduce what they are calling the SUCCEED Act, or Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending Our Nation. The legislation is designed to address the uncertain legal status of undocumented children following President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
So-called "Dreamers" could become citizens after 15 years provided they meet strict requirements in one of three merit-based tracks: keeping a job, pursuing secondary education or serving in the military. They must also pay federal taxes and not commit any crimes along the way.
"This is not an amnesty bill," Lankford said, adding it doesn't give undocumented children a faster route to citizenship than people who immigrate to the U.S. legally.
The legislation also aims to deter illegal immigration and "chain" migration, where people in a particular town follow others from that town to the same city or neighborhood.
Hatch, the author of the failed Dream Act, was an early advocate for a permanent legislative solution that recognizes the positive contribution Dreamers make in their communities.
"I, for one, want to get this problem solved. We're letting a number of people stay here in this country really illegally under current laws, which are stupid laws in some ways, and in a state of suspension that nobody should have to be in," he said.
Hatch said the bill ensures that Dreamers who want to stay in the United States long term can get their education and obtain gainful employment. He also said it could end the "screaming and shouting" about the issue.
Calling it a "fair and orderly" solution, Tillis said hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people could be eligible for the program. He said he knows the sponsors of the bill will take hits from the far left for not getting them to citizenship fast enough and the far right for giving them the opportunity.
"But it’s a balanced resolution to a vexing problem that hasn’t been resolved for 30 years," Tillis said.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is set to expire next March, protects about 800,000 people from deportation.
Lankford said he believes the SUCCEED Act could be in place by then but is not stand-alone legislation and must be part of an immigration reform package. He also said Trump, who has given mixed messages on Dreamers, told him he supports the concepts of the proposal.
There are about 10,500 people in Utah whose initial applications for protected status under the program have been approved, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Of that group, a little less than 7,500 have been granted their applications for renewal of that protected status.