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Latino leaders say GOP efforts on illegal immigrants won’t sway voting bloc

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PHOENIX – After overwhelming support from Latinos helped propel President Barack Obama to a second term, a new Republican plan would offer certain illegal immigrants legal status without a path to citizenship.

But will the legislation offered by retiring Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas appeal to the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc?

State Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, the House minority whip, doesn’t think so.

“The Latino community is smart and wise, and they can see through a smoke screen,” Tovar said.

Other Latino politicians who are Democrats and groups that advocate for Latinos said they see the legislation as a GOP ploy to gain votes without offering the one thing Latinos want out of comprehensive immigration reform: a route to citizenship.

“Any proposal that does not propose a pathway to citizenship is unacceptable,” said state Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Avondale.

“I think it falls short,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, “It is not even Dream Act-like.”

Kyl and Hutchison, along with Arizona Sen. John McCain and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, took over a year to draft their version of the DREAM Act, an 11-year-old immigration reform bill that most recently failed to pass through the Senate in 2010.

The new legislation, dubbed the Achieve Act, doesn’t grant citizenship but instead provides a 10-year, three-step plan under which immigrants would receive a variety of renewable visas giving them legal status. Applicants would have to have entered the country before age 14, be 28 years old or younger or 32 years old with a college degree from a U.S. institution.

Kyl and Hutchison have said they see their bill as a good compromise to the DREAM Act and that it shows that Republicans are willing to talk about immigration reform.

Kyl didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment by Monday afternoon.

Tom Morrissey, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, said he applauds Kyl and Hutchison for taking what he called an important step in navigating a solution to immigration reform.

“Everyone has to address this issue as Americans, not as Republicans and not as Democrats,” he said.

Rodolfo Espino, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies, said the announcement of the Achieve Act was a political move by the GOP.

“Republicans, seeing that the political winds have shifted and the demographics have shifted, it is not all too surprising,” Espino said.

Joseph Garcia, director of the Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said the new legislation is more about the Republican Party sending a message to its members who have taken a conservative approach to immigration reform.

“I think this is trying to bring more hardliner Republicans into line into a more moderate view,” Garcia said.

He said the Republican Party has realized that it is now necessary to attract Latino voters in order to win elections. He said Latinos have viewed Republicans with hard stances on immigration as anti-Latino and the Achieve Act is a Republican attempt to try to amend that sentiment.

“This is the first step in trying to do an extreme makeover in terms of immigration policy,” Garcia said.

Dulce Matuz, president of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, said when she first heard of the new legislation she knew it was a reaction to the increase in Latino voters this election.

“They need to understand that this is about young peoples lives,” Matuz said. “We are not going to tolerate their political strategies to score political points.”