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First Hearing on the Immigration DREAM Act in U.S. Congress

28 June 2011

Opening remarks by members of the committee:

Senator Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee chaired the hearing. The DREAM Act provides a path to citizenshp for undocumented immigrants enrolled in a college-level education establishment for at least 2 years who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, have resided in the U.S. for at least five years, and who have passed a background check proving their good moral character. In Sen. Durbin's belief, the Act will make America economically and socially stronger. He introduced the numerous individuals present at the hearing who where potential applicants for the path to citizenship outlined in the bill, and had volunteered to be present.

Sen Cornyn (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Committee, said that the issue of DREAM Act legislation has been used as a political weapon even though he looks at the DREAM student representatives that have been brought to the hearing with compassion and understanding. They have no culpability for the decisions that their parents made to bring them to the U.S. Unfortunately the promise of President Obama to reform the immigration system in his first year of office has not been met, and there is no good reason for why he has not delivered. On this score, Washington has failed the American people. Sen. Cornyn went on to say that the DREAM Act has a number of particular problems. Firstly it has loop holes in that, for example, it allows a 35 year old with 2 years of college to get a green card. Secondly, it stipulates that 2 or less misdemeanors on a criminal record could still enable an undocumented immigrant to qualify, and in some states misdemeanors can amount to unacceptable levels of wrongdoing. Thirdly, it makes solving the broader immigration system problems even harder. Forthly, it incentivizes parents to immigrate illegally to the U.S., and, lastly, it isn’t affordable.

Senator Feinstein (D-CA) said that the time has come to pass this bill. She agrees with Cornyn on just one thing: that the student in the room bear no culpability for the actions of their parents. Given their hard work they are deserving of the opportunity to stay in the country that has become their home. She quoted a study by UCLA that showed that the income generated by DREAM Act students would amount to between 1.4 and 3.6 trillion dollars over the next forty years. Moreover, on the point of securing borders, the U.S. is more secure than it has ever been due to new border enforcements.

Senator Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Committee said that it is in keeping with American laws that encourage people to keep to the rule of law. It is un-American and against the constitution to punish people for the actions of their parents. Moreover, it doesn’t make sense that in the current system, foreign students can enroll in universities and apply for green cards after they graduate and yet these rights are not available to students who live in America but who are undocumented.

Senator Leahy (D-VT) said that if there are young people who want to become Americans, we should be proud of that. Calling it ‘amnesty’ ignores our fundamental values of justice and fairness. We all have immigrant ancestry somewhere down the line.


Panelists:

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education:
There are two main reasons why the DREAM Act is a good idea for America’s students. Firstly, it provides fairness for many young people. Secondly, it improves economic prosperity. Statistics show that undocumented kids in America are five times more likely to apply for college than their other contemporaries, so demonstrating their enthusiasm for becoming better educated and pursuing the American dream. It is a myth that DREAM amounts to an amnesty to students because there are very strict conditions on who qualifies. Secretary Duncan answered questions relating to the budgetary implications of the bill. He reiterated the CBO's figures that show that the bill will raise a further 1.4 billion dollars for the economy in the first ten years. He also said that figures show that one in four start-ups in Sillicon Valley are by immigrants.

Janet Nepolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security:
DREAM is a priority for the nation and important for the mission of DHS. Young people who have abided by the rule of law should be eligible for this qualification. It doesn’t make sense from a law enforcement perspective to spend resources on deporting successful students. Secretary Nepolitano said, in response to questions about the process of allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise the authority to decide if certain individuals should be exempted, that an exact process has not been worked out for this but she can not see that every being a necessary power anyway. The totality of evidence in an individual's case is always the most important thing to consider. In response to a question from Senator Al Franken (D-MN) about whether an undocumented immigrant who was in the army and had recieved serious injuries in combat could be exempted if he met all the right criteria but had more than a couple of misdemeanors on his record, she said that it would be considered on an individual basis, but a case such as that could certainly constitute compelling evidence of eligibility. In response to a question from Senator Grassley (R-IA) about the cost of implementing the bill, she replied that it is a budget neutral so does not have any extra costs. She also answered questions about the recent memo from President Obama to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on prosecutorial discretion of undocumented immigrants reporting, factually, that it did not constitute an executive order and was not an abuse of presidential power.

Dr. Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness:
The Department of Defense strongly supports the DREAM Act because it will improve military standards of performance and readiness. He said that the proposal of restricting the DREAM path to only undocumented immigrants in the military would be counterproductive because it doesn't emphasise the range of roles in which immigrants play an essential part in society. He said that under very specific circumstances, the Secretary of Defense can waive consideration of immigration status for militay service but that this is for documented immigrants. In response to a question from Senator leahy he said that it is important that we emphasis the importance of all kinds of diversity in the military.

Ola Kaso, student from Warren, Michigan:
Ola is a student enrolled in an honors program at the University of Michigan gave her account of growing up in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant after being brought from Albania at the age of 5.

Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Stock. U.S. Army Reserves, Retired:
Lt. Col. said that DREAM is essential to our national security. It is part of a solution to our immigration problems and is perfectly reasonable to have as a stand alone bill. It enhances ability to retain high quality candidates for the military. Despite the fact that many people who are undocumented and have gone to our schools there is no way for them to gain legal status. Those who oppose the DREAM Act often say they should just get in line like everyone else but there simply isn't any such line. The suggestion that the military should take on undocumented immigrants is absurd as no other industry can do that. DHS has the institutional expertise to vet individuals for conditional immigrations status, and the DREAM Act enables the relevant individuals to not have to go through this. There is therefore no way that the military can enroll still-undocumented immigrants. 41% of males and 35% of females from Hispanic backgrounds between age of 18 and 21 are interested in joining the military.

Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies:
Mr Camarota said he had some significant reservations about the bill. Firstly, that 12bn dollars is the cost to tax payers of tuition subsidies for estimated 1m dreamers which will fall hard on state budgets. Tax benefits will only come in the long term. Secondly, there is the immediate problem of students dropping out after the stipulated 2 years of college. Thirdly, the Act is an invitation to fraud because there is not a clear list of documents that are valid, and, lastly, that in theory a person convicted of two misdemeanors can still qualify even if they are very serious misdemeanors. He proposed that this be fixed simply by stipulating which misdemeanors are inexcusable. Senator Durbin challeged Mr. Camarota on the accuracy of his economic numbers which don't agree with the conclusions of research by the CBO and the UCLA study. Camarota did not answer this directly but said that he agreed overall that the bill could offer great gains to the American economy.


Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator

A range of fact sheets and issues summaries of SPSSI's academic articles relating to immigrantion can be found at www.spssi.org/policyhub.


 

 

 

 

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