A few minutes into the first-ever Senate hearing on the DREAM Act, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the subcommittee holding the meeting, had to tell supporters to not applaud any comments.
The DREAM Act — reintroduced this year by Durbin — would grant people who entered the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 conditional permanent resident status for a period of six years, after which they would be eligible to become legal permanent residents if they obtain at least an associate-level college degree or serve in the military for two years.
In his opening statement, DREAM Act opponent Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he sympathized with DREAM Act-eligible youth who did not violate U.S. immigration law, but he said the bill offers eligibility to people convicted of misdemeanors such as driving under the influence, burglary, and drug possession. Cornyn added that this version of the DREAM Act has weak anti-immigration fraud provisions.
Durbin countered by saying that the bill is for youth with strong moral standings and that it provides up to five years in prison for immigration fraud.
The opening statement from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., summarized the three points later echoed by other supporters:
- The DREAM Act comports with the rule of law and accountability.
- The DREAM Act clarifies a distinction between a young person who lives in another country, comes to the U.S. with a student visa, and then has a path to citizenship, and a young undocumented immigrant raised and educated in the U.S. who has no such path. “This distinction makes no sense,” Schumer said.
- The DREAM Act does not give legal status to all young people — only to those who stay out of trouble and obtain a higher degree or serve in the military.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who testified in favor of the DREAM Act, said passage is the smart thing to do for economic prosperity, military readiness, and support for law enforcement efforts.
Napolitano explained (.pdf) that the Department of Homeland Security has focused on identifying criminal aliens and border security. She said that the DREAM Act supports these priorities because it makes no sense to spend law enforcement dollars on youth who do not pose a public safety or national security threat.
Referring to a recently issued Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo, Durbin asked Napolitano how Homeland Security would implement measures to make sure DREAM Act-eligible youth are not deported. Napolitano responded that her department is designing a process to identify people caught in the deportation process who are not removable.
Napolitano responded to Durbin and Cornyn’s questions about people who have been accused or convicted of misdemeanors, saying that an ICE officer has to look at the totality of an applicant’s behavior. She said that the DREAM Act has stricter criteria than the regular naturalization process in how it deals with these cases.
Dr. Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, testified that the Department of Defense strongly supports the DREAM Act, which would expand the pool of quality recruits for the armed forces.
In his written statement (.pdf) Stanley said that about 2.1 million aliens currently in the U.S. would meet the age and residency requirements of the DREAM Act, but because of the stringent and numerous requirements, a much number would eventually apply and qualify for the DREAM Act’s conditional status.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about the impact the DREAM Act would have on the U.S. economy, saying that without the DREAM Act, a generation will not develop its full potential. He also said that DREAM Act-eligible students would help fill many of the spots the U.S. will need in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
Duncan added in his written statement (.pdf) that passage of the DREAM Act supports economic prosperity, pointing to a UCLA study.
Lt. Colonel Margaret Stock, a retired member of the U.S. Army Reserves and an immigration attorney, quoted the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy (co-chaired by former Gov. Jeb Bush) when endorsing the DREAM Act: “The DREAM Act is no amnesty. It offers to young people who had no responsibility for their parents’ initial decision to bring them into the United States the opportunity to earn their way to remain here.”
The last witness, Dr. Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said in his statement (.pdf) that the current version of the DREAM Act has several problems. In his testimony, he highlighted four:
- Cost: With the two years of college required by the DREAM Act, the rise in undocumented students would increase costs at public schools for taxpayers.
- Legalizing current undocumented immigrants would encourage more illegal migration. As potential solutions, he suggested strengthening E-Verify, Secure Communities, and Section 287(g) immigration-enforcement programs.
- The DREAM Act is an invitation to fraud. The current version of the bill does not have a clear list of required documents.
- People convicted of certain misdemeanors would remain eligible for the DREAM Act.