Congress eyes DREAM Act: Fair to illegal immigrants or back-door amnesty?
Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said he will take up the DREAM Act next week. The bill would open a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants.
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After criticism that the bill included no age limits – and therefore was a potentially broad amnesty measure – sponsors capped eligibility at Age 35.Skip to next paragraph
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The US Department of Education estimates that there are some 55,000 students about to graduate from high school who could qualify for help under the terms of the act.
“Many young people – many were my students when I ran Chicago Public Schools – have done everything right: They’ve gone to school,... gotten good grades, worked hard, they’ve played by all the rules, and then the chance of going to college was denied them,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a Nov. 18 press conference call. “That is absolutely unfair to those children ... and to our country and economy.”
In addition to coping with Republican opposition, Democrats will also need to bring on board lawmakers in their own ranks. At least seven Senate Democrats have expressed doubts about the measure or committed themselves in advance to oppose it. That makes winning the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster well out of reach.
But Democrats still have strong reasons to push the legislation. “It’s a send-a-message vote,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Hispanic votes will be critical if Democrats want to get reelected or take back control of the House.”
Anti-illegal immigration groups caution that a vote for the DREAM Act could also threaten Republican senators who face voters in 2012.
“The pro-DREAM people are trying to gin up this sense of inevitability,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. “Even the Republicans who cosponsored it – Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Nevada – they’re up in two years and they are facing [possible] conservative primary challengers,” he adds. “Do they want to open up this huge new target on their backs? I don’t see it.”