WASHINGTON -- Conservative senators from three GOP states Monday proposed allowing illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to legally remain in the country and potentially become citizens.

But reflecting the belief immigration should be based on merit, the bill sets conditions on the 800,000 so-called Dreamers, including attending school, having a job or serving in the military.

The measure’s chief sponsors are Republican Sens. James Lankford, of Oklahoma and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah also supports the legislation, titled the Succeed Act.

Lankford said President Donald Trump appeared to support the legislation during a late night call, quoting Trump as saying, “that’s exactly the kind of proposal I think could work.” 

The proposal deals with one of the stickiest issues of immigration reform – what to do about those undocumented individuals who are in the U.S. through no fault of their own and have been raised as Americans.

It would grant Dreamers a “conditional residential status” for five years if they have been in the U.S. since 2012, and were 16 or younger at the time. They would need a high school diploma or the equivalent if they’re over 18, pass a criminal background check, not owe federal taxes, and agree their conditional status would be revoked if they are convicted of a crime.

After the initial five years, they would be allowed to stay another five years as conditional residents if they agreed to work, go to college or vocational school, or join the military.

Then, if they remain in good standing, they could apply for a regular green card, and five years later apply for full U.S. citizenship.

The Republican plan comes a week after Trump struck a deal with Democratic leaders to come up with a solution before former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program ends in March.

Republican leaders who control Congress have said they would only accept a deal on Dreamers as part of a broader package to increase border security.

Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said passage of the Lankford-Tillis-Hatch bill could “end the screaming and shouting over the issue” that has left the Dreamers’ fate in suspension.

Lankford and Tillis, at the press conference introducing the measure, called for stronger requirements to stop illegal immigration while also allowing for a kinder approach to dealing with the Dreamers.

Lankford said Dreamers are in a different situation than other illegal immigrants.

“These are kids who literally do not have a home,” said Lankford. “They do not remember their home country when their parents brought them here illegally. We as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents.”

At the same time, Lankford said the bill bars DACA parents from receiving benefits based on their children’s citizenship, a provision to ensure the proposal does not encourage the bringing of children to the United States illegally.

Lankford said fears that Dreamers compete with native-born Americans for jobs is not borne out by reality as many DACA immigrants are already part of the work force.

Contact reporter Kery Murakami at kmurakami@cnhi.com.

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