The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday night that would provide a conditional path to citizenship for as many as 500,000 children of undocumented immigrants.
While the House approved the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act by a vote of 216-198, the fate of the DREAM Act remained uncertain as the Senate postponed a test vote on the measure.
DREAM Act proponents say Senate inaction or a vote against the measure would be a major setback for the drive for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws for years to come because of the pending Republican takeover of the House and Democrats nervous about their re-election prospects in 2012.
“The prospect of any type of immigration legislation over the next two years is slim to none,” said Jorge Mario-Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, one of several groups that lobbied Congress for the DREAM Act’s passage.
DREAM Act opponents, who called the measure “amnesty,” said a rejection by Congress would cripple the effort for sweeping immigration legislation, one that contains a guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship, well beyond 2012.
“If it doesn’t get through this lame-duck session, it will be at least four to six years before this cause comes up again,” said Roy Beck, founder and CEO of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates strict immigration limits and enforcement of immigration laws.
The act would allow immigrants who are younger than 30, entered the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years without committing a serious crime, graduated from high school and attended college or joined the military, to be eligible for legal residency after meeting other criteria.
A Congressional Budget Office study estimated that the act would help from 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants. President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders, who vowed to Latino voters during the 2008 campaigns to change U.S. immigration laws, said passing the act is the right thing to do to help the nation’s economy and military and a way to enhance the lives of those who may have entered the country illegally with their families but have been raised as Americans.
“These people covered under this bill are the children any parent would be proud of: our sons and daughters, neighbors, classmates, prom kings and queens, football players and cheerleaders who stayed in school, played by the rules, stayed out of trouble,” Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said on the House floor.
“If you are pulled over for a speeding ticket and you have a child in a car seat next to you, that 2-year-old doesn’t get the speeding ticket. If there is a bank robber with a toddler on his back, that toddler doesn’t spend life in prison.”
Republican opponents called the DREAM Act “a nightmare” bill that ignores the rule of law and could potentially take jobs away from legal American workers at a time of high unemployment. They also claim the act would lead to illegal immigrants submitting fraudulent academic records and papers to become eligible for the act.
CSUN students reacted to the news of the passage of the legislation.
Senior Pedro Trujillo, 21, is not surprised the DREAM Act passed.
“It was expected to pass at least in the House,” said the Chicano/a studies major. “I’m not super excited about it because it’s still not law.”
Freshman Ana Baragan, 19, said she feels the passage is a good step.
“I think we knew it was going to pass in the House, but in the Senate it’s going to be really hard for Republicans to vote for it because Republicans don’t really get it and they are against immigration reform,” Baragan said.
Chicano/a studies professor Omar Gonzales said that although he objects to the military option in the DREAM Act because of the militarization of the youth, he thinks it’s a good step.
“I think it is a tremendous step in the right direction for amnesty and justice for all immigrants,” Gonzales said.
contributed to this report