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Dream Act caught in political undertow


Children typically have no control over where the adults in their lives take them, and that is the premise behind a piece of legislation that has been bouncing around Congress for at least 10 years.

Currently called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2010 or “the Dream Act,” the bill was essentially killed in the final days of the 111th Congress, when Democrats could not muster up the 60 votes needed in the Senate to break a Republican filibuster and vote on the bill, S.769.

Now President Barack Obama, who pushed hard for passage of the Dream Act, along with Hispanic caucus members and their allies are regrouping to map out how to get the legislation passed in a new Republican-controlled House. Defeat of the legislation means that children of illegal immigrants do not have a path to legal citizenship.

Rep. Luis V. Guttierrez, D-Ill., chairman of the Immigration Taskforce of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, predicts supporters of the Dream Act will spend the next two years taking defensive measures as Republicans take over Congress. He also noted in a statement after a meeting with the president that Obama’s “veto pen” is a crucial weapon against radically anti-immigrant policies.

Ironically, 10 years ago Sen. Orrin Hatch, one of those opposed to the current Dream Act, sponsored similar legislation. But now, a spokesperson in the Utah lawmaker’s office says before any citizenship bill for immigrants can be passed, Americans want to see secured borders that prevent the spillover of Mexico’s drug cartel wars into the U.S. They also want to see the flow of undocumented immigrants halted.

While that might be the publicly voiced sentiment, David Horne, Ph.D., a political science professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), said it was a matter of political horse-trading. Republicans were not approving two pieces of legislation, said the professor referring to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law approved by the legislature just days before the Dream Act was defeated.

“When I saw them approve that, I knew the Dream Act would not pass,” noted Horne.

While most people think those who will benefit from the Dream Act are only Hispanics or Latinos, that is not actually the case.

Had it passed, officials say the Dream Act would have begun the process of establishing a new immigration policy.

According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., 79 percent of the 1.9 million Dream Act-eligible youngsters are Latino, and 21 percent are non Latinos. Among the latter group, one in 10 is Asian.

Under the bill, a Dream Act applicant who met the legislation’s requirements would have become a “conditional nonimmigrant.” The Dream Act would allow an individual to obtain this conditional status only if he or she mets all of the following requirements:

* was brought to the United States as a child (15 years old or younger)
* was currently 29 years old or younger
* had lived in the U.S. for five years or more before the date of enactment
* had graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or was admitted to an institution of higher education
* had been a person of “good moral character,” as defined by our immigration laws, from the date the individual initially entered the United States
* submitted biometric and biographic information and completed security and law-enforcement background checks
* undergone a medical examination
* registered for the Selective Service
* paid a significant surcharge in connection with the initial application