Seneca’s thoughts on the DREAM Act and how it might proceed in the next Congress:
Due to their immigration status, thousands (in excess of 60,000) of high school graduates across the country have not been able to take advantage of the opportunities that make a higher education a possibility. In-state tuition rates, private scholarships, state and federal grants and loans, the ability to work in order to support themselves and pay for college are all denied to these young people, who came to our country as children and have been living here and attending school without immigration status.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act, is a proposal for federal legislation that attempts to address the federal barriers to both education and work for undocumented young immigrant students. The House version (HR 1275) was introduced on March 2007 by Howard Berman (D-CA). As of 2007, it is cosponsored by Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) plus 67 other Democrats and 1 more Republican. The question raised is: Will these same sponsors, especially the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in the House stay the course in carrying the bill to final approval?
The Senate version was introduced earlier this year by Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Richard Lugar (R-IN). The legislation would restore states’ rights to offer in-state tuition to immigrant students residing in their state and ultimately provide a path to citizenship for those who qualify. The students must be of sound moral character, have graduated from a school in the US or have obtained a GED, have been here continuously for at least five years and be 12-30 years old prior to the bill’s enactment. The students would obtain temporary residency for a period of six years, during which they must attend college, earn a two year degree or complete two years of a four year college career, or serve in the military for two years. The immigrant students could not receive federal higher education grants, but they would be able to apply for student loans and work study. Once the six year temporary period was over, the student who has completed one of the educational or military service requirements would be eligible to apply for permanent residency, if he/she does not meet the requirements, their temporary residence would be revoked and they would be subject to deportation. Several versions of the bill have been introduced in both houses of Congress, although the House has never brought it to the floor alone. In order to bring forth the DREAM Act for debate in the Senate, a vote was scheduled on October 24 that would require a “filibuster proof” count of 60 yes votes. That day on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) , who previously opposes consideration of the DREAM Act, announced that she and Sen. Durbin would work to make changes that she felt were necessary to gain Republican support for the proposed legislation. It was announced that if the debate of the DREAM Act was allowed, the bill would be rewritten in favor of Sen. Hutchison’s suggestions, which included that students should be allowed to hold a temporary student visa with a renewable work permit instead of conditional permanent residency. By a very small number of votes, the Senate rejected an attempt to begin the debate on The DREAM Act proposal, which would have offered an opportunity to the thousands of young undocumented immigrant students an opportunity to pursue higher education and an option to resolve their current lack of immigration status. The DREAM Act obtained 52 votes in favor, falling eight votes short of the 60 needed. Senate rules require a super majority of 60 votes to advance most bills. President-Elect Obama released the following statement on the Senate’s failure to move forward to consider the DREAM Act (S.2205):
“We need comprehensive immigration reform in this country – reform that promotes our national and economic security and creates a pathway to earned citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. We should not punish undocumented children who were brought to this country illegally through no choice of their own by keeping them in the shadows. The DREAM Act would have given these young people the opportunity to earn a degree or serve in our military, and eventually become legalized citizens. Failing to pass the DREAM Act only compounds the immigration crisis by continuing to drive thousands of young people every year into hiding.
Today is another missed opportunity in the battle to solve the immigration crisis in this country. The immigration debate has been wrought with the politics of division and fear, and been exploited by some politicians, blocking the real reform we need. Today’s vote proves that we need to do more to transcend these divisions – especially to provide solutions to help the most vulnerable in our society. I will continue to work with Senators Durbin, Hagel, Lugar and Kennedy on this issue, and will fight to bring this legislation back for another vote as soon as possible.”
Clearly, plenty will be on the new President’s agenda this coming year. But one hopes that this important legislation is not jettisoned for budgetary reasons or biased rejection of granting immigrant youth any chance for educational improvement or the lassitude of our Latino congressional members.