Republican Congressmen Introduce Legislation to Legalize Undocumented Minors

(Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. / Photo: AP)

Two Republicans are leading the fight in Congress to ensure that young adults contributing to society may stay in the country in lieu of more permanent immigration reform legislation. Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) recently introduced a narrowly tailored bill that, if enacted, would temporarily remove the fear of deportation for minors that were brought to the United States illegally through no fault of their own.

Under the bill, a young adult would need to show he or she has been living in the country for at least five consecutive years; is attending or soon will be attending an accredited high school or vocational institution; or be enlisted in the U.S. military. Additionally, the youth would need a valid work permit.

The legislation, called the Recognizing American Children Act, represents a growing bipartisan push to integrate into education and the workforce a large number of young adults who are in the country illegally. Public polling suggests that Americans are generally supportive of this concept, despite an anti-immigrant undercurrent in a critical congressional and presidential election. Support is not limited to Democratic voters, either. A recent poll found that 42 percent of Republican voters favored letting some undocumented immigrants stay in the country under certain circumstances.

And in exit polls taken during the Republican primaries in a number of states — including key border states like Texas — those polled expressed support for legalizing undocumented immigrants.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 21: Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol, October 21 2015. Many questions were about the likelihood of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., being elected Speaker of the House. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, above, has been a leading Republican on immigration issues. | Photo: AP

News that two Republicans are leading on this issue has been well received by groups such as the Colorado Hispanic Republican Party, which is trying to foster support for the GOP in the Centennial State. Dr. Michael T. Parra, vice chairman of the Colorado Hispanic Republican Party, told Opportunity Lives he supports Coffman’s efforts because he understands “the same values we [conservatives have] are the same values Hispanics have.” Parra added that he is supportive of what the Colorado lawmaker is trying to do to “make sure that we don’t deport young adults that were brought here by their parents and had no say in the matter.”

Still, even Republican authors of the Recognizing American Children Act recognize that legalizing only a portion of the young adult undocumented population does not address the larger question of how to fix the dysfunctional immigration system as a whole.

“This is just one step out of many necessary to fix our broken immigration system,” Coffman said in a release shortly after introducing his bill with Curbelo. “We still must secure our borders and have immigration policies that will grow our economy.”.

But with little chance of approving a more sweeping bill, it is clear that lawmakers want to shield those immigrants facing deportation who have been raised in the United States, speak the language, and contribute to society in some meaningful way.

Curbelo, whose Florida district includes Key West and part of Miami, says his bill addresses a critical need.

“There are many young immigrants in our country who came involuntarily with their families as minors,” Curbelo said in a press release. “They have grown up with our own kids and attended American schools — many speaking only English. Today they are trying to make a contribution to our great nation through the economy or the military. These are undoubtedly America’s children.”

Although the chances of passing the Recognizing American Children Act are slim in an election year, it is clear that Republican lawmakers are demonstrating a continuing resolve to address elements of a large and complicated immigration system that has gone largely unresolved in recent years and may explain why the American electorate is increasingly skeptical of Congress.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter:@IzzyOrtega.