Once again, the DREAM Act is up on the discussion board; yet this time its possibilities seem greater than ever. For the first time ever, a Senate hearing has been held to discuss the bill with Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) as chairman of the subcommittee holding the meeting. In its current form, the DREAM Act would grant people who entered the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 conditional permanent resident status for a period of six years, after which they would be eligible to become legal permanent residents if they obtain at least an associate-level college degree or serve in the military for two years.
Nevertheless, being that the bill is still stuck in the preliminary discussion phase, several discordant issues were raised. One such person to oppose the bill was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said he sympathized with DREAM Act-eligible youth who did not violate U.S. immigration law, but was overall against the bill because it offers eligibility to people convicted of misdemeanors such as driving under the influence, burglary and drug possession. Sen. Cornyn added that this version of the DREAM Act has weak anti-immigration fraud provisions. Sen. Durbin responded to this by saying that the bill is for youth with strong moral standings and that it provides up to five years in prison for immigration fraud. Another point that was raised concerning the possible adverse effects the bill would have if implemented were those by Dr. Steven Camarota who is the director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies. In his statement, he said that the current version of the DREAM Act has several problems, the most notable of which regards the increase that would occur in the cost for college tuition given that the requisite two-year attendance would cause a tremendous rise in undocumented students, and would therefore increase the cost at public schools for taxpayers. Even though the tuition cost is likely to rise, that cost is minimal in comparison to the cost of not implementing the DREAM Act, especially since taxpayers would recapture the expense two-fold with the added benefit of having an educated workforce and a taxable one at that.
As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) assured, the DREAM Act bill is written in accordance with the rule of law and accountability. He also underscored the fact that the bill is meant to counteract a major injustice in the immigration system, namely that which treats those who came to this country with a temporary visa and those who came here illegally differently. The DREAM Act clarifies this distinction by offering a young undocumented immigrant raised and educated in the U.S. a path to legal citizenship in the same way one with a student visa would be applicable to receive. In support of the bill, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in favor of the DREAM Act, saying that it is the smart thing to do for economic prosperity, military readiness and support for law enforcement efforts. Ms. Napolitano explained that the DHS has focused on identifying criminal aliens and border security, adding that she supports these priorities because it makes no sense to spend law enforcement resources on youth who do not pose a public safety or national security threat. In reference to the recent change in direction for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sen. Durbin asked Ms. Napolitano how DHS would implement measures to make sure DREAM Act-eligible youth are not deported. At this, her response was that her department is designing a process to identify people caught in the deportation process who are not removable. With regards to the concerns raised by Sen. Cornyn, the DHS secretary said that ICE officers have to look at the totality of an applicant’s behavior, and further added in remark that the DREAM Act actually has stricter criteria than the regular naturalization process in how it deals with these cases.
In a written statement, Dr. Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, testified that the Department of Defense strongly supports the DREAM Act since it would expand the pool of quality recruits for the armed forces. According to his data, there are about 2.1 million aliens currently in the U.S. who would meet the age and residency requirement of the DREAM Act, but because of the stringent and numerous requirements, a much smaller number would eventually apply and qualify for the act’s conditional status. With regards to the benefits the law would have on education, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, spoke that the impact would be great for the U.S. economy, adding that without the DREAM Act, a generation will not develop its full potential. He also said that the DREAM Act-eligible students would help fill many of the spots the U.S. will need in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. In another respect, Lt. Colonel Margaret Stock, a retired member of the U.S. Army Reserves and an immigration attorney, quoted the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy when endorsing the DREAM Act: “The DREAM Act is no amnesty. It offers to young people who had no responsibility for their parents’ initial decision to bring them into the United States the opportunity to earn their way to remain here.”
Although the DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that, in being highly contested, is likely to achieve a very heated debate before it is even voted on once again, the overall message that has continuously been gaining traction is clear: the country needs to acknowledge the undocumented population and prevent it from sinking further underground; instead, it needs to assure they are granted opportunities that are vital to their occupational advancement, which if left without, would only be detrimental to the economy, the national character, and the morale of this country and it’s inhabitants.