Activists from the Student Immigrant Movement march in support of the DREAM Act.  (AP photo)


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has joined top congressional Democrats in urging Congress to pass a small piece of immigration legislation known as the DREAM Act before it adjourns for the year.

The bill would give hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants a conditional path to legal residency.

Democratic leaders promise to schedule a vote on the DREAM Act (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) when the Senate returns to Washington, D.C. after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has repeatedly promised a vote on the measure during the lame-duck session.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also expressed support for bringing a bill to the floor after Thanksgiving.

“This legislation has traditionally enjoyed support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and would give young people who were brought as minors to the United States by their parents the opportunity to earn their citizenship by pursuing a college degree or through military service,” the White House said in a statement following the President’s closed-door meeting with leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Nov. 16.

The DREAM Act would apply to immigrants younger than 36 years old who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children under the supervision of their parents and have maintained “good moral character,” among other requirements.

Immigration activists are staging rallies throughout the country in support of the possibility of action during the lame duck session of Congress.

In New York, an immigration rally was held on Nov. 21 at St. Brigid’s Church on Linden Street in Brooklyn attended by hundreds of protesters.

Immigrant advocates, including New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Representatives Nydia Velazquez of New York and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois who have met with Mr. Obama, have all urged the President to more aggressively lobby members of Congress to approve the legislation this year, since efforts to pass a comprehensive reform package have all but failed.

“The window of opportunity is closing, but we will not rest until we get it done,” Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-Brooklyn) said at the Brooklyn rally.

The least we can do is to pass the DREAM Act as a down payment for comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

Gutierrez said in a statement after the meeting with Mr. Obama that he and other Democratic leaders are confident Republicans who have voted for the DREAM Act in the past can be brought around to support the measure again this year.

The bill has had Republican co-sponsors in the years since it was first introduced in 2001.

It was passed as part of a Senate immigration reform bill in 2006, although the package later failed in the House.



                     PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

In 2007, the DREAM Act was filibustered when it came up for an up-or-down vote.

“Passage of the DREAM Act is achievable right now,” said Gutierrez. “The policy of mass deportation is not working and is ripping apart communities and may only get worse under a Republican controlled House. We cannot squander this opportunity to save a million kids.”

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights) said the DREAM Act is a humanitarian bill that helps kids “who are our neighbors that are being punished for a decision they did not make.”

“All children, documented or undocumented, deserve the same basic educational opportunities that this bill provides,” Ackerman said. “We must fight to pass this legislation now, before the current Congress ends, because next year we won’t have the votes. We owe these children that much.”

In California, Senators Dianne Feinstein, who co-sponsored the measure, and fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer said they don’t understand how anyone could vote no on the bill.

“You’re a kid who was brought here at age 1. This is your country. You don’t know any other country,” Boxer said. “You’ve no clue about any other country.”

Boxer cited the case of one student body president in Fresno who turned out to be undocumented.

“What do they expect these young people to do?” she asked.

Boxer added that the military describes the measure a “recruitment dream.”

Opponents of the measure, including many Republicans, said the bill is flawed and would unreasonably add legal workers to the workforce at a time when many Americans are out of jobs.

According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, about 2 million of the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. could be eligible for legalization under the DREAM Act.

The group also estimates, however, that only 825,000 of those immigrants would ultimately take advantage of the law if it were enacted.

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