Portions of the DREAM Act may become law as bipartisan immigration reform efforts move forward.
Immigration reform and education are issues that intersect only once in a while, but when they do, the circumstances tend to be both critical and controversial.
A perfect example is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Among other provisions, this legislation seeks to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children (now frequently called DREAMers) who go on to complete a college degree or serve in the military.
The DREAM Act has been introduced to Congress several times since 2001. It has never been successfully ratified, though 12 states have passed their own versions of the legislation. But new focus on reforming the entire immigration system is breathing new life into the discussion, reviving chances that the DREAM Act – or at least portions of it – will become law.
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Immigration and Education Now Central Issues
Both Democrats and Republicans agree: The U.S. immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. For decades, disagreement on exactly how to fix it kept genuine reform on Congress’s back burner. What one party proposed the other resisted and the result was gridlock.
However, Latino voters have become a large voting bloc in the United States, and the 2012 elections saw them use their power at the polls to great effect. Immigration reform is an important issue to many Latinos, which has resulted in it finally gaining some real political traction.
In a recent interview with ABC’s “This Week”, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) summed up the sudden focus on immigration reform. “First of all, Americans support it, in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Thirdly, Democrats want it. And fourth, Republicans need it.”
Menendez and seven other senators from both parties – collectively known as the “Gang of 8” – have proposed sweeping legislation to tackle a variety of immigration-related issues. Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has presented a plan of his own, and President Barack Obama outlined his thoughts on immigration reform in a speech last week.
From securing the borders to providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living here, these plans address concerns that were considered non-starters just a few months ago. Many provisions of the DREAM Act are among them, igniting what may be the most serious discussion on immigration and education the nation has ever seen.
Different Plans to Fulfill the DREAM
The Gang of 8 immigration reform plan (formally the Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform) is currently seeing the most discussion, as it is bipartisan and seems to have a real chance at passing both houses of Congress. For DREAMers, it provides a path to citizenship that is less stringent than for other undocumented immigrants, recognizing that they did not knowingly violate immigration laws. The Gang of 8 plan would also automatically award green cards to immigrants who earn a master’s degree or PhD in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field from an American university.
Senator Rubio’s plan includes provisions similar to the DREAM Act where education is concerned; it would award legal status, though not full citizenship, to DREAMers who attend college or serve in the military. However, President Obama rendered this position largely irrelevant when he issued an executive order in June 2012 allowing such individuals to stay and work in the country legally.
Though Obama spoke at length about immigration reform last week in Las Vegas, he did not formally announce his own plan. This is widely seen as an attempt to give the Gang of 8 plan a chance to work. But historically, the president has supported complete implementation of the DREAM Act, including its provision to grant full citizenship to DREAMers who complete college or military service.
Whichever plan is ultimately brought before Congress for a vote, two facts are clear: There is broad consensus that now is the time to act on immigration reform, and that such reform should include provisions encouraging DREAMers and other immigrants to pursue higher education. An issue that seemed permanently gripped by political deadlock is at last starting to move forward.