DREAM Act Supporters Make Their Case to the US Senate

“I am an American in my heart,” Michigan student Ola Kaso told Senators on Tuesday in the first-ever hearing on the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a much-needed pathway to citizenship for some undocumented students who attend college or serve in the military.

The hearing, available on webcast and chaired by long-time DREAM supporter Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), in the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security featured a chorus of supporters, ranging from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense, who testified to the bill’s potential benefits to the country’s economy and armed forces.

Among the roughly 800,000 students who would qualify for DREAM are future scientists, business owners, and military leaders. Kaso, 18, who graduated from high school this month after starring in every Advanced Placement course offered, has been accepted into the honors program at the University of Michigan and plans to become a surgeon.

“Imagine what it would mean for us to invest in these students,” wrote NEA in written testimony provided to the committee for the record.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The DREAM Act has been around for years – in December, it passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but died in the Senate without a vote. Last month, it was reintroduced by Durbin, Harry Reid (D-NV), and Robert Ménendez (D-NJ), and also co-sponsored in the House by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

Proponents hope the bill fares better this year. Recent polls show that 70 percent of Americans (including 60 percent of Republicans) favor DREAM. And this spring, several state legislatures, including Connecticut and Maryland, passed their own versions, joining states like New Mexico, New York, and Texas.

Nonetheless, it’s unclear if the bill has the necessary votes in the Senate. “Of course we all have compassion for these young people, and we know how Washington has failed to deliver comprehensive immigration reform…Unfortunately, this version of the DREAM Act has several well-known problems,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Namely, he argued, it would provide an incentive for illegal immigration.

The way it would work is, to qualify:

  • Students must already have lived in this country for five years,
  • And arrived here at less than 15 years of age.
  • They must show good moral character;
  • Have graduated from high school or earned a GED;
  • And completed at least two years of college or military service in good standing.

Mary Ann Pacheco, a professor at California’s Rio Hondo Community College, knows students who fit the bill. “These are students who still believe in the American Dream,” she said. Their talent potential is something this country should be exploiting – “in a positive way,” she said. “I don’t see the DREAM Act as a remedy for the problems of immigrants – I see it as a remedy for the problems of this nation.”

Certainly it would have an economic benefit, as Duncan pointed out. The likely beneficiaries of the DREAM Act would earn between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion over the next 40 years, if they became legal residents, and pay billions and billions in taxes, according to recent UCLA research.

And it also would be a benefit to the country’s armed services, which anticipates another recruiting crisis as the economy continues to recover. “Military officials are quite aware that this is a very large cohort of young people who could be eligible to join the military,” said Lieut. Col. (Ret.) Margaret Stocks to reporters Monday. One longitudinal study at the Pentagon actually found that non-citizens have performed better in the armed services than citizens, she said.

The alternative is deportation, which hardly makes sense for this country, Durbin said. “When I look around this room, I see America’s future – our doctors, our teachers, our nurses, our engineers, our scientists, our soldiers, our congressmen, our senators and maybe our president.”

“How could I be sent to place I [do] not remember?” asked Kaso. “I have considered one country, and one country only, to be my home. America is my home, not Albania.”


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