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Obama vs. Romney 101: 5 ways they differ on immigration

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Itzel Guillen (l.) and Lucero Maganda, seen here in San Diego on Aug. 15, are among those hoping to benefit from the Obama administration’s executive order.

Gregory Bull/AP/File

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2. DREAM Act

The DREAM Act has been seen as an interim step that Congress could take before is politically able to take up comprehensive immigration reform. First introduced in 2001, it stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and it would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal residents who were brought into the US as minors, are pursuing an education or military service, have lived in the country continuously for at least five years, and who have not run afoul of the law.

The DREAM Act was a part of the 2007 bill that Obama supported, and as president, he has continued to support the DREAM Act on its own. Indeed, with the DREAM Act stalled – most recently, Senate Republicans blocked it in 2010 – Obama took action into his own hands. He issued an executive order on June 15 calling on immigration officials to grant deportation deferrals to the same illegal immigrants who fit the profile laid out by the DREAM Act. While not a path to citizenship, the executive order allows DREAMers to apply for work permits, driver's licenses, and college tuition help. 

Romney has said he would veto the DREAM Act, but his position appears to be evolving. He told NALEO that he would replace Obama's executive order with his version of comprehensive immigration reform and offered a path to legal residency – though not citizenship – to one slice of the DREAMers: illegal immigrants in the armed forces.

"As president, I will stand for a path to legal status for anyone who is willing to stand up and defend this great nation through military service," he said at the NALEO annual meeting.

This offering of legal status – instead of citizenship – could be a hallmark of any broader Romney immigration reform, says Robert Gittelson, president and co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  

“A particular distinction between these campaigns might be in terms of a pathway to citizenship versus a pathway to simple legal status," he says. "I suspect that the governor might be more generous to a larger block of undocumented immigrants than most people think, but it is possible that he would offer the more moderate position of offering simple legal status, arguing that policy would be strict, or resolute in terms of the rule of law, while also embracing a fair or compassionate conservatism." 

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