Immigration policy is sure to be a top issue in North Carolina’s 2020 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. For Garland Tucker III, it is part of the reason why he is challenging incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis.
When Tucker appeared on The Sean Hannity Show May 8 to announce his campaign for Tillis’ seat in 2020, he said he was most concerned with Tillis’ "weak" immigration policies.
"He co-sponsored a bill that not only provided amnesty, but provided a clear path to citizenship for illegal immigrants," Tucker said on the radio show.
PolitiFact reached out to Tucker’s campaign to ask what he meant. Carter Wrenn, spokesman for Tucker, said Tucker was referring to the 2017 "Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, and Defending our Nation," or Succeed Act.
As it turns out, the Succeed Act would only pertain to people who were brought to the country illegally as minors. They are sometimes known as DREAMers, a term derived from the Dream Act, a legislative bill that was first introduced in Congress in 2001 but never passed. It’s an increasingly vocal group of young people who argue that after being raised and educated in the U.S., they have nowhere else to call home.
Tillis sponsored the legislation as a more GOP-friendly immigration solution for that group of immigrants, as compared to the bipartisan Dream Act or President Obama’s DACA policy. Tillis’ bill did not pass the Senate.
The Tillis campaign said the Succeed Act was introduced as part of a larger plan to reach a compromise on border security. When the bill was introduced, Tillis and another sponsor, Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma stressed that the bill should not be passed if it was not paired with a solution for the border.
"Sen. Tillis does not support amnesty. What Sen. Tillis has strongly supported is President Trump’s plan to secure our borders, modernize our immigration system, and stop illegal immigration," Tillis’ campaign manager, Luke Blanchat, said.
The word "amnesty" has been the subject of many a fact-check by PolitiFact — including checks about Sen. Marco Rubio and Florida candidate Adam Putnam’s stances on immigration — but we wanted to see if there was any truth to Tucker’s claim.
WHAT IS THE SUCCEED ACT?
The Succeed Act is comprised of five steps to citizenship that would occur over at least a 15-year timeline.
The first step of the bill is to meet all eligibility requirements for conditional status. In order to even qualify for this, an immigrant must have entered the United States illegally before age 16 and lived there continuously since June 15, 2012, when DACA was announced. They also would have to have been younger than 31 on June 15, 2012.
DACA refers to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that gave young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children the opportunity to work, study and get a driver’s license without fear of deportation.
Under the Succeed Act, immigrants are required to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent, pass a criminal background check, submit biometric and biographic data to the Department of Homeland Security, pay off any existing tax liabilities, be of "good moral character" and sign a waiver from future immigration benefits if they violate the terms of their status.
If a minor had applied for and received conditional permanent resident status, they would have to reapply when they turned 18 and would be required to either maintain gainful employment for 48 out of 60 months, earn a post-secondary or vocational degree, or serve honorably in the U.S. military for at least three years.
After five years, they would then have to apply yet again, and if they had maintained conditional permanent residence for 10 years, they would finally have the opportunity to apply to be lawful permanent residents. After five years of lawful permanent residence, they could apply for naturalization and become U.S. citizens.
Despite the many restrictions specified in the Succeed Act, Carter Wrenn, a spokesman for Tucker, said that it still qualifies as amnesty because "amnesty is a pathway to citizenship."
The real question is: what is amnesty? And does the Succeed Act fit the bill?
WHAT IS AMNESTY?
Amnesty means a pardon for a large group of people, and in the context of immigration, it has become a politically charged word. Amnesty does not have a "black and white definition," said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the liberal-leaning Migration Policy Institute. Some people say that any path to legal status for migrants is amnesty, and others say there is more to it. However, she said, compared to many other immigration reform proposals, the Succeed Act was one of the narrower options.
Steven Camarota, the director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, which pushes for less immigration, said that immigration amnesty is just like any other amnesty. In the simplest terms, he said, amnesty is forgiveness for a crime. Most amnesties have requirements that ultimately result in forgiveness, so having stringent requirements does not disqualify the Succeed Act from being considered an amnesty.
"Every parking ticket amnesty, every tax amnesty and every other amnesty always had requirements," he said. "The 1986 IRCA amnesty did."
IRCA, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was signed into law by former President Ronald Reagan, usually serves as the standard for amnesty in immigration policy. In addition to a few minimal requirements, the bill said illegal immigrants could become legal permanent residents, or green card holders, as long as they could prove they were in the U.S. by Jan. 1, 1982. This means that any immigrant who had been in the country continuously for about four years when the bill was signed into law in 1986, who paid a $185 fine and back taxes and who demonstrated "good moral character" would be granted legal status.
In comparison, the Succeed Act would not qualify an immigrant for permanent resident status unless they qualified as a minor who entered the country before they were 16, lived there continuously since and were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. They must have also already applied for, obtained and sustained conditional legal status for 10 years.
"I consider (Tucker’s claim) a deeply misleading use of the word amnesty," said Edward Alden, the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank.
Alden said that the Succeed Act was written for children who were brought here by their parents while they were still minors. Since amnesty is the act of forgiveness of a crime, and these children were legally unable to commit a crime, they could not be found legally responsible for their actions or even need amnesty, Alden said.
Compared to other immigration proposals, such as the Reagan-era IRCA, the Succeed Act is far more restrictive, and it only covers a group of people who fall under a gray area in the law.
Tucker argued that Tillis’ Succeed Act was pro-amnesty because it gave illegal immigrants a clear path to citizenship.
He is correct that the bill would help pave the way for citizenship for a select number of immigrants in the country illegally, but it only concerns those who were minors when they first entered the country. It would give them the opportunity to apply for citizenship only after a long and highly restrictive 15-year process. Additionally, Tillis said the bill should not pass unless it was combined with a border security plan.
Tucker did not specify that the Succeed Act only pertained to that group, so his claim gave the false impression that the proposed bill would grant a general amnesty for illegal immigration.
Therefore, we rate it Mostly False.
This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide. To offer ideas for fact checks, email [email protected].