Lame-duck Congress may take up legislation
Monica Rodriguez, Staff Writer
Created: 11/27/2010 07:08:04 AM PST

The final days of the current congressional session may provide an opportunity to pass legislation giving a path to U.S. citizenship to some young people who are in the country illegally.

Supporters of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, along with its opponents, say the proposal could be introduced shortly and come up for a vote.

“If it’s going to happen, it has to be between now and January,” said Jose Calderon, an immigrant rights advocate and a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont.

“After January it’s going to be awhile,” he said, referring to the new session when the new Republican majority in the House will be in place.

But Calderon and others hope Senate leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will follow through on his commitment to introduce the proposal and hold a vote during the current lame-duck session of Congress.

Opponents of the DREAM Act, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, also believe the proposal could come up for a vote.

“We take it very seriously,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for FAIR.

Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, both appear committed to bringing the issue up for a vote, he added.

“You have a number of members (of Congress) no longer accountable to constituents,” he said. “They’re going to try to push through amnesty for illegal aliens.”

Achieving comprehensive immigration reform is not going to happen anytime soon, but the DREAM Act has a chance of being adopted because it has support from some Democrats and Republicans, Calderon said.

If approved, the DREAM Act would affect young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, have demonstrated good moral character and meet a series of requirements, including completing the first two years of college leading to a bachelor’s degree, or serving in the military.

Students would be given provisional residency to meet the initial requirements in what would be a multi-phase program leading to permanent residency and possibly citizenship.

Students would not be eligible for federal financial aid until they have become permanent residents, Calderon said.

Many of those who would qualify for legalization under the DREAM Act speak fluent English and have excelled academically in high school and college, but they cannot use their training because they are in the country illegally, Calderon said.

Supporters of the DREAM Act say this is not amnesty. If eligible young people fail to meet any of the requirements, they will lose their chance to gain citizenship.

“These are children who grew up in the U.S. and know no other country,” Calderon said. “They have done everything society has said they should.”

Various studies have shown that if DREAM Act legislation were approved, it would result in a positive economic impact, Calderon said.

Among this group of young people are students who have earned graduate and post-graduate degrees but can’t get jobs because of their immigration status, Calderon said.

“Now they have all these skills but can’t put them to use,” he said. “It’s such a tragedy for the country not to develop pathways for those skills, for that knowledge.”

The nation has a need for an educated work force, and these young people can “pay taxes and contribute more,” Calderon said. “It just doesn’t make sense to not bring them in to the work force.”

Mehlman said this is not the time for legislators to take up such a proposal. Lawmakers’ time would be better spent on matters such as the budget or unemployment, he said.

“Any broad, new social legislation should be left to the next Congress,” Mehlman said.

“The opportunity for sweeping immigration reform is gone,” he said, adding pursuing the DREAM Act now “is more of a last gasp to salvage something.”

Should a DREAM Act proposal be approved, it would be expensive, Mehlman said.

California is a state that is struggling with its budget, and a proposal like the DREAM Act would result in additional pressure on the state’s educational system and its financing.

It’s the kind of pressure the governors and legislators of other states are not going to embrace, Mehlman said.

Everyone agrees immigration reform is needed, and as part of it more must be done about enforcement at the nation’s borders, Mehlman said

Calderon said the country does need comprehensive immigration reform, but the support doesn’t exist to tackle the matter.

To achieve larger immigration reform “is going to take awhile and a lot of organizing at the grass-roots level,” he said.

Jesus Barrios, 20, of Pomona, is a public health major at Cal State San Bernardino and an undocumented resident of this country.

He is a member of the Inland Empire Dream Team, a partnership of undocumented students and supporters concerned about issues affecting undocumented students.

Barrios was glad to see the California Supreme Court rule recently that illegal immigrants are entitled to pay in-state tuition at state colleges if they meet residency requirements

But Barrios said additional work is ahead involving the DREAM Act.

Undocumented students must give attention to Dream Act legislation and are doing all they can to encourage legislators to support its reintroduction and approval during the lame duck session, Barrios said.

Andrea Ortega, of Fontana, is also a member of the Inland Empire Dream Team. She is in the country legally, but she has friends who are not.

They are young people who have the capacity to be successful college students at some of the country’s most prestigious universities, but they are often attending community college or other academic institutions because they don’t have the money and don’t qualify for financial aid, she said.

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