Immigration Reform advocates around the country were enthralled last Wednesday when the Dream Act, recently advanced by Senate Leader Harry Reid, passed the House of Representatives. The bill, which passed the House in the final days of Democratic control, was favored by a vote of 216 to 198. By now, supporters of the proposed law are aware that their optimism must be tempered by caution. Under discussion for almost a decade, the legislation would give certain undocumented immigrants the chance to stay in the U.S. by serving in the military or attending college if they entered the U.S before the age of 16 and have no serious law-enforcement violations. Qualified applicants would receive an interim conditional permanent-residency status and many would be on track for gradual naturalization. An estimated 2.1 million immigrants already in the U.S. may qualify for benefits under the act.
The newest incarnation of the Dream Act is a stricter version, in an attempt to engender bipartisan support. The revised bill would still offer a path to citizenship to immigrants who entered the country illegally as minors if they graduate from high school and pursue college or military service, but the path would take longer and exclude more immigrants. Senator Reid’s proposal lowers the maximum age of eligibility to 30 from 35, creates a 13-year wait for citizenship and closes some of the loopholes that immigration reform opponents have argued were too broad-sweeping and generous.
All prior version of the Dream Act have excluded immigrants with serious criminal records, but the compromised version also disqualifies immigrants convicted of evading the draft, smuggling, voter and marriage fraud, as well as other misdemeanor and felony crimes. Qualifying Dream Act beneficiaries would not be able to become U.S. Citizens until at least 2024, until which time they would not be eligible to vote, to petition certain relatives for immigration benefits, or to receive most forms of public assistance.
Proponents of the bill feel that it would allow young immigrants with clean criminal records and promising futures the platform from which to build a responsible life. In one fell swoop; the law would create legal taxpayers out of people who were once confined to living in the shadows, allow immigrants to protect their belongings with a legitimate policy, motivate young immigrants to attend college and attain necessary skills to use in the American workplace, and entice
Critics of the bill hope that it is once again defeated. They have applied the contentious and misleading label of “amnesty” to the bill and have made unsubstantiated exaggerations about the effects of passage, including that the bill would benefit criminals. On the contrary, the Dream Act is comprised of strict eligibility parameters and would only benefit a very narrow percentage of the immigrant population—excluding serious criminals. As described above, the newest iteration of the bill creates heightened eligibility requirements, making it tougher than before to qualify. In order to be approved, an immigrant’s entire period of time in the U.S. will be examined, and an officer of the Department of Homeland Security will need to make the determination that the applicant has been a person of good moral character.
The next stage in advancing the Dream Act is a Senate to vote on the bill—which originally was to take place last Thursday. However, in a strategic move, Senator Reid decided to delay the vote until after legislation regarding tax cuts is finalized. It is thought that doing so will raise chances of bipartisan cooperation. Meanwhile, Dream Act supporters hope that the delay will allow them more time to make their voices heard.
For years, voters have looked to Congress for leadership and wisdom in enacting a solution to the nation’s immigration system. With the passage of the Dream Act, Congress can make Americans proud by moving beyond petty party politics to fix a system that needs mending, for the benefit of all Americans. It is now clear that a vote on the Dream Act will be forthcoming. Supporters should continue to contact their Senators to express their support for passage.
Author's Note: The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the individual legal research and personalized representation that is essential to every case.
Robert L. Reeves is a licensed California attorney and is certified by the California State Bar as an Immigration and Nationality Law Specialist. He has been specializing in immigration law for over 30 years and is admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, several US District Courts and California State Courts. He is the Managing Partner of Reeves & Associates with offices located in Pasadena, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Makati City – Unit 507 Tower One Ayala Triangle, also known as the Philippine Stock Exchange Plaza Makati , 6767 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, Philippines 1226 (corner Paseo de Roxas, beside Ninoy Aquino Monument). Philippine Contact Numbers: 759-6777 or Toll Free: 1-800-10-773-3837 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.rreeves.com