DREAM act poised for Senate vote Saturday

The DREAM Act creates a path to US citizenship for young people who were brought into the country illegally while minors. It passed in the House but faces a tougher vote in the Senate.

Nick Ut/AP
Felipe Escobar, dressed as "The Grinch" pretends to steal a "citizenship diploma" from student Devin Heillendinger during a rally to promote the federal DREAM Act, Tuesday Dec. 14, 2010 in Los Angeles.

The fight for the DREAM Act is down to the wire with the House-passed bill scheduled for a Senate vote Saturday.

The bill, which creates a path to US citizenship for young people who were brought into the country illegally while minors, has seen various incarnations since it was first introduced ten years ago.

Under the current version, minors in the United States illegally would be allowed to stay in the country temporarily if they are under the age of 30, have lived in the US continuously for at least five years, and were brought to this country before they were 16 years old.

They also must earn a high school diploma, GED, or college acceptance, and they must undergo various background checks. They would then be able to gain permanent resident status – and apply for citizenship – after 10 years and after completing two years of college or military service.

Advocates and opponents paint a very different picture of the DREAM Act, whose full title is the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“The DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that conservatives can love,” says Rich Nathan, Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus in Ohio, during a conference call with faith leaders who support the bill. Why? Because it grants people an opportunity to serve the country through military service or education, he says, and because only those who have shown good moral character are eligible.

Support from educators

Educators are for it as well, including at least 29 higher-education associations and the presidents and chancellors at more than 73 colleges and universities. Nearly 400 university professors who study immigration have signed a statement endorsing the act.

Obama administration officials, led by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have been putting on a last-minute push for the bill.

“To have their energy, ingenuity and entrepreneurship unleashed first through the chance to go to college and then in the workforce will not just change the fortunes of them and their families in their communities but will be a tremendous benefit to the country,” Secretary Duncan said in a Friday morning media call.

In another conference call with reporters later in the day, senior Department of Homeland Security officials argued that the DREAM Act will make the nation’s borders more secure.

That’s because the act’s stringent requirements will act as a “force multiplier” in dissuading families from bringing children into the country illegally, said US Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar. “Passage of this bill would in fact have a positive effect on the ability to address our nation’s borders.”

“There is a lot of work to be done,” he acknowledged, “but the border today is as secure as it’s ever been.”

Critics emphasize costs

Critics of the DREAM Act – and of illegal immigration generally – say just the opposite is true.

Americans for Legal Immigration, a political action committee in Raleigh, NC, warns that a waiver in the bill “would allow the Secretary of Homeland Security and President Obama to grant amnesty to most illegal immigrants in America.”

“It would displace several million innocent American students, workers, and voters," said William Gheen, President of ALIPAC.

The Center for Immigration Studies in Washington has calculated the estimated financial impact of the DREAM Act.

Assuming no fraud, center researchers estimate that 1.03 million illegal immigrants will eventually enroll in public institutions (state universities or community colleges) as a result of the DREAM Act, and that each one will receive a tuition subsidy from taxpayers of nearly $6,000 for each year he or she attends for a total cost of $6.2 billion a year.

“Advocates of the DREAM Act argue that it will significantly increase tax revenue, because with a college education, recipients will earn more and pay more in taxes over their lifetime,” states the center study. “However, several factors need to be considered when evaluating this argument.”

Among these factors, according to the report:

• Any hoped-for tax benefit is in the long-term, and will not help public institutions deal with the large influx of new students the act creates in the short-term.

• Given limited spaces at public institutions, there will almost certainly be some crowding out of US citizens – reducing their lifetime earnings and tax payments.

• The DREAM Act only requires two years of college; no degree is necessary. The income gains for having some college, but no degree, are modest.

• Because college dropout rates are high, many illegal immigrants who enroll at public institutions will not complete the two years the act requires, so taxpayers will bear the expense without a long-term benefit.

The DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 8 by a vote of 216-198.

Monitor staff writer Stacy Teicher Khadaroo contributed to this report.

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