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Heller says he’s open to DREAM Act alternative

WASHINGTON – Sen. Dean Heller said Wednesday he is considering support for an immigration plan that would offer some form of relief to young people brought into the country illegally as children.

Heller, R-Nev., said he has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and is open to his legislation being advertised as an alternative to the Democrat-sponsored DREAM Act.

“I am very interested in what his proposals are because I believe there are answers to this issue,” Heller said during an interview. “I am interested for some kind of a compromise that moves this ball forward. I am hoping that whatever Rubio does propose is something I can support.”

Heller has opposed the DREAM Act, saying it amounts to “amnesty” by offering a path to citizenship to students and young people brought into the United States as children if they pursue higher education or join the military.

The Nevadan said Rubio has been coy about sharing details even with fellow Republicans. Heller said he could not say whether whatever Rubio produces may also amount to an “amnesty” that he might reject.

“It depends on what it says,” Heller said. “I am open to see what he is doing. I am not saying I support whatever he is doing but I am open to discussions on what he is trying to achieve.”

Heller’s support for what some call “DREAM Act Lite” could give him something to show the Hispanic community in Nevada that he is trying to court as he seeks election this fall.

Many in the community, however, prefer the full DREAM Act and are viewing Rubio warily. But with Congress at an impasse over immigration reform, the Florida senator has gained attention for moving forward with a new approach.

White House officials and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have challenged Rubio to put his plan on paper.

“In anything we do in life, the devil is in the details. So let’s see what Marco’s going to come up with,” Reid said in an interview with the Spanish-language Univision network that aired Sunday.

Reid said he would not support a proposal that did not include a path to citizenship.

In the interview, Heller also said he does not plan to bring up the issue of gay marriage in this year’s Senate race even though he and Rep. Shelley Berkley, his Democratic challenger, clearly have opposing views.

Berkley last week embraced President Barack Obama’s announcement that he believes same-sex marriages should be legalized.

“I have been a longtime supporter of marriage equality for all Americans and am glad President Obama has embraced this civil right,” Berkley said.

Heller, on the other hand, said last week he believed “marriage is between one man and one woman and (I) would not support changing that.”

Nevadans in 2000 and 2002 voted by majorities of almost 70 percent to add a clause to the state constitution that “only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state.”

Gay rights advocates say they believe the mood of the electorate has tempered although there have been no recent measures of voter sentiment.

Either way, Heller said he is not touching gay marriage.

“I don’t want it to be the issue in the campaign,” he said. “I truly don’t want this to be the issue. I want to talk about jobs, the economy, foreclosures. I want to talk about energy prices.

“Those are the issues of this campaign. I believe all the rest of the stuff is just a diversion from the issues of the day and I am not going to get stuck on those things.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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