By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Jeff L. Khurgel
Immigration Reform advocates around the country were pleased when Senate Leader Harry Reid recently advanced a new version of the Dream Act. 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, motivate young immigrants to attend college and attain necessary skills to use in the American workplace, and entice immigrants to join the military at a time when our forces need bolstering.
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.
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.