Although immigration reform remains a controversial topic in an increasingly volatile political environment, yesterday the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security held a hearing on the Development, Relief, and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act of 2011 (S 952). Several hundred “dreamers” attended and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and Secretary of the Department of Education were among the witnesses. While this bill has been reintroduced in each congress since 2001, this is the first ever hearing the Senate has held on the issue.
The DREAM Act would grant citizenship to young individuals on the following basis:
- The individual must have been continuously physically present in the US since at least 5 years prior to the date of enactment of this Act.
- The individual was 15 years of age or younger on the date that they initially entered the US.
- The individual has been a person of good moral character since their entry into the US and has not been convicted of a felony.
- The individual has been admitted to an institution of higher education in the US or has committed 2 years to military service
- The individual is 35 years of age or younger on the date of enactment of the Act.
Senators Durbin, Leahy, and Schumer have long been champions of the DREAM Act. Senator Durbin called it a “simple act of American justice” and expressed frustration at the fact that we allow foreigners into the US on visas to attend American universities and then send them back to their home countries to work for and develop businesses that compete against American companies, yet we have so far been unwilling to take steps to retain gifted and talented young people who intend to stay in the US and contribute to our own society and economy.
Those senators opposed to the bill expressed several concerns throughout the hearing:
- It would allow individuals with misdemeanors, which in some states can include violent crime, to still be eligible for the DREAM Act
Response by Ret. Colonel Margaret Stock (currently an immigration lawyer): The Immigration and Nationality Act contains a definition for ‘good moral character’, which includes a lengthy list of offenses, including those that opposing senators are concerned about, which would render an individual ineligible. Also, including this statute in the bill prevents the ability of DHS to waive this requirement.
- The cost of implementation is high and enactment of the bill would be harmful to the economy
Response by Secretary of DHS, Janet Napolitano: She believes that the Department currently has enough resources and finances to implement the bill with little or no effect on other programs. It would also allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to prioritize immigration goals and would free up strained resources.
Response by Secretary of Arne Duncan: a 2010 study from UCLA, estimated that the total number of students who would benefit from the DREAM Act could generate between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion dollars over their working lifetime, which would increase the revenue for the federal government generated by taxes.
- The DREAM Act will encourage further undocumented immigration
Response by Secretary Duncan: The opportunities it would provide are not prospective or unlimited. Only young people who were already here for five years before the legislation is enacted into law would be eligible for lawful permanent resident status, and the period in which they could apply for adjustment under the DREAM Act is limited. Those who arrive after that time would not be eligible.
While immigration reform, particulary the DREAM Act, has seen considerable bipartisan support in the past there remains significant differences between what both sides are looking for in the bill. This is especially true in the House, which introduced a similar bill last month (HR 1842) and support is deeply divided along party lines.