A decade after it was first proposed in the Senate in August 2001, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act had its first-ever public Senate hearing Tuesday even as deadlock persists over its passing.
The DREAM Act would prepare a way for illegal immigrants – who were brought to the United States as children – to acquire U.S. citizenship, on the condition that they attend college or serve in the U.S. military for a minimum of two years and meet certain character requirements. If it is passed, the DREAM Act would legalize more than two million undocumented young migrants.
Hundreds of them were present at Tuesday’s hearing, in which Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, among others testified in support of the immigration bill.
Amid a huge gathering, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the bill’s sponsor, made his point: “When I look around this room, I see America’s future … I ask my colleagues to consider the plight of these young people who find themselves in a legal twilight zone through no fault of their own. They are willing to serve the country they love. All they are asking for is a chance.”
Chance was what Ola Kaso of Michigan asked for, too.
The Albania-born “DREAM Act” student, who was brought to the United States when she was only five years old, delivered her testimony at the hearing: “I am an American at heart. There are thousands of other dreamers just like me. Look around the room, and you will see hundreds of them today. All we are asking for us is a chance to contribute to the country that we love.”
Education secretary Duncan testified that the U.S. would be short three million college graduates by 2018 and it must grant citizenship to the undocumented students to fill new positions. “We need entrepreneurs, innovators who will create jobs,” he said, adding that it “sicken[ed]” him that children of illegal immigrants could not go to college and gain the experience needed for the jobs.
Citing the Congressional Budget Office he said that naturalized citizens could generate $1.4 billion for the federal government in the next decade, besides providing workers in the fields of science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
Security secretary Janet Napolitano emphasized that the Obama administration wanted to provide legal options for young illegal immigrants, who do not have criminal history, to contribute to American society.
“Only young people who are poised to contribute to our country and have met strict requirements regarding moral character and criminal history would be eligible. These individuals do not pose a risk to public safety. They do not pose a risk to national security,” Napolitano said.
Republicans, however, remain skeptical of the proposed bill, which was defeated in a lame-duck session last December. They said that while they were sympathetic to the situation faced by children of illegal aliens, the bill did not plug the loopholes that could be exploited for deception.
“This bill, sadly, does nothing to fix our broken immigration system,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It may be worse that we’re providing incentive for future illegal immigration. This bill does nothing for border security, workplace enforcement, visa overstays, which account for about 40 percent of illegal immigration in this country. In other words it does nothing to reduce the likelihood of future illegal immigration.”
Republicans have termed this proposal amnesty, and have said it would seem to the world that the United States is not serious about enforcing its laws or its borders.
With Republicans in control in the House, supporters of the bill are not hopeful of getting it passed, though Durbin asked the students at the hearing not to lose hope.
Cornyn, on the other hand, said the proposal had become “a cynical effort to use the hopes and dreams of these young people as a political wedge in the run-up to the 2012 election.”
And precisely because of next year’s election Republicans must rethink their stance, experts say.
According to Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, the long-term trend of Latino population growth would hamper Republicans if they did not embrace a more balanced approach, The Los Angeles Times reported.
“They’re sitting on a demographic time bomb,” Kelley, the vice president for Immigration Policy and Advocacy in the Washington-based think tank, said in an interview.
But as CNN reported, the aggressive stance of Democrats on immigration in tough economic times could also swing voters toward the GOP.