In a victorious late-term push by the lame duck Democratic majority, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would grant temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented students, and give them the opportunity to gain permanent resident status.
First introduced to the U.S. Senate in 2001, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — commonly known as the DREAM Act — would allow six-year permanent resident status to individuals who came to the U.S. before turning 16, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED certificate, are under the age of 35, demonstrate “good moral character” and have lived in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years at the time of the bill’s enactment.
After completing at least two years of higher education or military service, these individuals would be able to apply for five more years of non-immigrant status, and after ten years, they would be eligible to apply for permanent residency.
Though supporters both in Congress and at the University say they are optimistic about Wednesday’s vote, they said the fight to turn the bill into law is far from over.
Sociology Prof. Silvia Pedraza said she watched the vote on the bill on C-Span and was happy with the result. She said those who spoke both for and against the legislation made solid arguments.
As a supporter of the bill, Pedraza highlighted the significance of the Republican vote. She said that while only eight House Republicans voted for the bill — five of whom were Hispanic — 20 Republicans abstained from voting altogether, meaning they weren’t necessarily against the legislation.
John Garcia, director of the Resource Center for Minority Data and the community outreach director for the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, said that by abstaining from the vote, Republicans who have high Hispanic populations in their districts could save face by not offending their constituents outright.
“It would be interesting to look at the Republicans who abstained and look at what their districts look like,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he views the DREAM Act as “a kind of a potential shift away from immigration as exclusively a security, law enforcement issue” to a more social and educational issue.
The Senate voted 59-40 yesterday to table the bill for one week. Since the legislation was filibustered in the past, it will need a 60-vote majority to receive a vote from the Senate.
Garcia speculated that the postponement was a strategic move by Democrats to buy more time to rally support from Republican senators by highlighting the economic benefits of the bill or emphasizing the threat of losing support from Hispanic constituents.
Pedraza said the DREAM Act’s success in the Senate may depend on more than just the bill’s own merits. Compromises made between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans on tax cuts may play a significant role in persuading Republicans to vote for the DREAM Act, she said.
“That’s not fair to the DREAM Act … the DREAM Act has been discussed for ten years,” she said. “That’s very dirty politics I think.”
Garcia said he also thinks bi-partisan compromises will play a role in the debate. Especially after Obama made concessions on the tax cuts, Garcia said, the president might try to “keep that give-and-take kind of sentiment out there.”
In a statement released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary, Obama voiced his two-pronged support for the bill.
“This vote is not only the right thing to do for a group of talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own by continuing their education or serving in the military,” Obama said, “but it is the right thing for the United States of America.”
He cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that found the DREAM Act would cut the nation’s deficit by $2.2 billion dollars over ten years.
Addressing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Wednesday, U.S. Congressmen John Dingell (D-Mich.) said he supports the bill because it would help students who didn’t decide on their own to come to this country illegally.
“The DREAM Act will provide opportunity and hope to young immigrants brought to this country by their parents who, through no fault of their own, cannot be a meaningful part of our society without this Act,” he said in his address, according to a press release issued by Dingell’s office. “Most of these individuals speak English as well or better than their native tongue and they consider the United States their home, but they cannot realize their dreams because of their immigration status.”
Dingell highlighted how the bill will ultimately benefit the country as a whole by allowing a greater number of eager, young individuals to boost the power of the U.S. military and contribute to the college-educated workforce, according to the press release. Additionally, he added that the bill will also expand the overall federal, state and local tax base.
Dingell emphasized that his support for the legislation came only after months of careful deliberation.
“…I am tired of throwing patches at the immigration problem,” he said that what this country truly needs is comprehensive immigration reform. While he said the DREAM Act is yet another “small patch,” the young people targeted by the bill should not be “held hostage” while the government works toward large-scale reform, according to the press release.
Some of the young individuals impacted by the legislation gathered Wednesday night to watch the House vote on C-Span with Sam Nawrocki, head of the Migrant and Immigrant Rights Advocacy group on campus.
“I watched the vote with a group of undocumented students,” Nawrocki said. “We’re all very surprised and very excited about the House’s vote … but very much know it’s only the first step.”
Narwocki said she and other members of the “youth-led movement” advocating for the DREAM Act called Dingell and other congressmen to rally support for the bill leading up to last night’s vote. Now that the legislation is before the Senate, she said her and others will reorganize and continue to make calls over the next week.