Democrats in Washington announced yesterday the re-introduction of the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant legal status to children of undocumented immigrants if they attend college for two years or join the military.
"Our immigration laws prevent thousands of young people from fully contributing to our nation's future," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the bill's lead sponsor, said to reporters. Durbin has championed DREAM for years and says passing it is "a matter of justice." "These young people are American in every sense of the word except for their legal status," he said. "These children are tomorrow's doctors, nurses, teachers, policemen, firefighters, soldiers and senators, and we should give them the opportunity to reach their full potential."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., joined Durbin during the press conference. They and 30 other Democrats have already signed onto the Senate bill.
Reid is open to attaching the DREAM Act to a House Bill that calls for tougher immigration enforcement, including the controversial E-Verify program, which would allow employers to screen the legal status of their employees. House Republicans plan to move on a mandatory E-Verify bill later this year.
However, immigrant rights groups and unions oppose E-Verify. The system is flawed and could reject even legal immigrants from being hired, they charge.
The DREAM Act has seen repeated opposition from GOP lawmakers over the years. The bill passed in the House by a landmark vote, but it failed December in the Senate, where support for it fell five votes short of the 60 needed to prevent a Republican filibuster.
The chances for passing the bill in Congress today faces even stronger opposition, especially since Republicans control the House and have a larger caucus in the Senate than before.
Although five Democrats voted against the DREAM Act when it came up for a vote last year, Reid says the focus is to win over more GOP support.
In the House, a version of DREAM was introduced by Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
The news of renewing the legislation came a day after President Obama delivered a speech in El Paso, Texas, outlining a plan to overhaul the nations immigration system and calling lawmakers to pass the DREAM Act. Obama spoke about his administration's steps to strengthen border security and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Latino, labor and civil rights leaders welcomed Obama's latest attempt to address the issue.
"Obama is showing great political courage," said Eliseo Medina, SEIU's international secretary-treasurer. "For years, Republicans have blocked congressional debate on comprehensive immigration reform with the false argument - proven wrong many times over - that securing the border was a pre-requisite" for immigration reform. Securing the border is nothing more than a costly band-aid and short-term fixes don't address the bigger problem, he said.
Recent polls indicate that over 72 percent of Americans favor an earned path toward citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
United Food and Commercial Workers president Joseph Hansen said Obama is correct to prioritize immigration reform as an integral step on the path toward economic recovery.
"As Americans, it is imperative that all members of our society have an opportunity to be a part of the American dream - including working for decent wages and benefits, owning a home and sending their children to college," said Hansen.
Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza also applauded Obama's speech. However, she said, "We continue to note with concern the deafening silence of the Republican leadership."
Further, she says, "We hope and expect that the White House will go beyond speeches and meetings and take meaningful action. As record levels of detention and deportation continue to soar, families are torn apart, innocent youth are being deported, and children are left behind without the protection of their parents. Such policies do not reflect American values and do little to solve the problem. We can do better."
Photo: Pepe Lozano/PW