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What's Wrong With the STARS Act

Preparing the terrain for Senator Marco Rubio, his Florida colleague and friend, Representative David Rivera (R-Fla) introduced this week the Studying Towards Residency Status Act or STARS Act. This act is Rep. Rivera’s alternative to the DREAM Act that has stalled in Congress for nearly eleven years. Complimenting this Act, last January Rivera introduced similar legislation, the Adjusted Residency for Military Service Act or ARMS act. Senator Rubio promised at the beginning of May he will introduce his own version of the Dream Act in the Senate sometime soon.

With an acronym as catchy, though less hopeful, than the DREAM Act, the STARS Act, would allow undocumented students who are 19-years-old or younger, who arrived to the U.S. before age 16, have lived in the country for five consecutive years, graduated from high school, and are accepted into a four-year university, to stay in the country five more years by applying for a conditional non-immigrant status. 

In a surprising move, considering that most Republicans have been adamantly opposed to granting a path to citizenship to undocumented people other than those who have served in the military, the STARS act will allow those who benefit from it to get the extension of their conditional non-immigrant status for five more years if they finally earn a college degree and meet other criteria. In this period they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency, which will put them in a citizenship path. Though it has more requirements than the DREAM Act, and it will benefit less people, this act represents a positive step in the direction of addressing the condition of irregularity in which many people live in this country. Senator Rubio’s version in the Senate, however, is unlikely to include a similar provision, as a spokesman for the senator argued that they will have to use “existing pathways”. As the American Immigration Council has explained this would put those who benefit from Rubio’s legislation into a Catch-22 because under current immigration law this will imply that to qualify for a green card they will have to depart the U.S. but will be barred from returning as soon as they leave the country. 

Despite its apparent good intentions the STARS Act has little chances to pass in the House, and even Rubio’s bill, once introduced, is unlikely to ever become a law. By offering a path to citizenship, or even if they do not offer it these legislations will be expectedly perceived as a threat by those members of the GOP that are opposed to any form of regularization. From their perspective, accepting any of these bills would be opening the doors again to possible negotiation of future bills to reform the immigration system that includes a path to citizenship for the large number of undocumented in the country. That for them is unacceptable on cultural and political grounds.

For these reasons we need to understand the legislation introduced by Rivera as a political gesture. The STARS Act, along with Rubio’s bill in the Senate would provide the GOP the opportunity to regain some of the support that their party lost among the Hispanic electorate in a GOP presidential primary season that was full of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Without greater support among this electorate it will be very difficult for Mitt Romney, now the official Republican presidential contender, to win the elections.  

Because most Hispanics favor the DREAM Act, GOP consultant Ana Navarro has already said that Romney will have to deal with this subject at some point:

He is going to have to talk about the DREAM Act. He is going to have to talk about immigration. He has talked about it already during the primary and he's going to have to talk about it in a broader sense come the general. It's certainly an issue that's not going to go away.

Romney has not talked about it yet. But Rubio will help him, with the reduced versions of the DREAM Act that his friend Rivera is introducing in the House, and the one he will introduce in the Senate.

The STARS Act, therefore, should also be read as a possible attempt to help Rubio win the vice-presidential GOP nomination now that Romney is the official party contender. Rubio has made every attempt to positioning himself in the national agenda –e.g. publishing his official biography, and grating in depth interviews along with his wife— by presenting himself as the most promising member of the GOP to rebuild the broken bridges with Hispanics that former President George W. Bush built.

Being primarily a political gesture to cultivate Hispanics and to position Rubio as a vice-presidential contender it is highly unlikely that Rivera’s act will deliver any hope for the Dreamers any time soon, despite its apparent good intentions.