NEW YORK — Undocumented immigrants and their advocates have been waiting since President Barack Obama’s inauguration to see a new immigration law passed on behalf of the estimated 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US. If passed by the Senate, the DREAM Act might be a dream come true for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children and have lived illegally in the US for at least the last five years.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act has been making the rounds since 2003, but has yet to make it through Congress. The last time the Senate voted on the DREAM Act was last September when it failed to get the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster that Republicans were threatening. The vote was 52-44.
Late Wednesday the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act again with a vote of 216-198. The legislation will now be sent to the Senate, which is expected to vote Thursday on it.
The reason the Act has been controversial for some is that it offers the certain illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. The Associated Press reports that critics have called it a “backdoor grant of amnesty that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the United States in hopes of being legalized eventually.”
Rep. Eliot Engel (D) of New York asked opponents of the bill to “have a little compassion,” going on to say, “these children came here, they didn’t decide to come here. They know no other country. Some of them don’t even know the language of the country in which they were born, and they deserve to have a right as free Americans.”
The most recent draft of the bill says candidates who are under 30 and high school graduates who have lived in the US illegally and continuously for the last five years may apply for conditional non-immigrant status. They can then earn legal immigrant status after ten years as a conditional non-immigrant and either two years of military service or two years in a four-year institution of higher education.
They would have to prove good moral character and that they arrived in the US before they were 16 years old.
If they complete at least two years of their higher education program or military service and remain in good standing after those ten years they would be eligible to apply for permanent residency as legal immigrants.
Those who did not meet the requirements after ten years would lose their conditional nonimmigrant status, revert to the status they held before applying under the DREAM Act, and would be subject to immigration action including deportation.
The Senate plans to vote on Thursday, but the Democrats are not expected to have the 60 votes required to avoid the filibuster that Republicans and a few Democrats are threatening.
If the Congress doesn’t pass the bill in its final legislative push of the year, the DREAM Act will be sent back to the House and tabled until 2011 at the earliest.