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The DREAM Act is an American legislative proposal first introduced in the Senate on Aug. 1, 2001 and most recently on May 11, 2011, when the bill was re-introduced in the U.S. Senate.

 

WASHINGTON — Top federal officials have urged the Senate to once again take up legislation that would open a path to citizenship for some immigrants who arrived illegally as children.

The DREAM Act would have allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country when 16 or younger and subsequently completed some college or military service to apply for citizenship.

The measure drew bipartisan support last year but ultimately fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) reintroduced the bill in May, prompting last week’s hearing.

Opponents of the bill criticized it by saying it weakened immigration enforcement and granted amnesty to law breakers.

Supporters countered that those affected would be productive members of society such as college students, many of whom arrived at a young enough age to have no recollection of their home countries and thought of themselves already as America.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who also oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency that is responsible for initiating deportation proceedings, pushed that argument.

“These people do not pose a risk to public safety,” Napolitano said.

“They do not pose a risk to national security.”

Similarly, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan argued that “they have deep roots here and are loyal to our country because in any event, this is the only home they have ever known,” pointing to the extra revenue the law could generate.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who chaired the hearing, called those whom the law would affect “America’s future.”

In a quiet and low-profile move, the Obama Administration moved recently to shift enforcement away from the types of immigrants who would be aided by the DREAM Act.

John Morton, head of ICE, issued a memo advising immigration officers and attorneys to prioritize the people they target given the agency’s “limited resources to remove those illegally in the United States.”

He included a list of factors to consider, from whether people have a criminal record to, more tellingly, their “ties and contributions to the community” and whether they arrived in the U.S. as a young child.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” American Immigration Lawyers Association President David Leopold said, “What he’s really saying is, look at the people you run across in the scope of your enforcement work as human beings, not merely as statistics and targets — have they developed ties, have they added to the social fabric and culture, do they have children that depend on them? I applaud him for that.”

Meanwhile, about 200 undocumented students from all over the country demanded that President Barack Obama halt deportations and push for the approval of the DREAM Act to legalize their immigration status.

Prior to those pressure tactics, Mr. Obama had reiterated his support for immigration reform and the DREAM Act at a White House press conference focused mainly on the budget and other issues.

The President called for the legalization of students who have grown up in the U.S. “and think of themselves as Americans and who are illegal through no fault of their own and who are ready to give back to our country and go to school and fight in our military.”

But the students, first in a crowded hall of the Senate building and later in front of the White House on June 28, complained that Mr. Obama had supported immigration reform with words and not deeds.

The students, many of them facing possible deportation, came to Washington from as far away as California, Texas and Florida with a single message: the immigration system needs reform.

Also attending the event and lending the students his support was Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who founded the Define American organization in favor of immigration reform and recently publicly admitted that he is undocumented.

Vargas said he was inspired to come forward by the stories of students who walked 2,414 kilometers (about 1,500 miles) from Miami to make their voices heard in Washington.

In remarks to Efe Spanish news agency, Vargas complained that state governments are considering or have approved their own anti-immigrant laws due to Washington’s inaction.

“We have to elevate the dialogue on immigration in the U.S. because this isn’t just a Latino issue; we’re very diverse but we want the same thing that legal residents want, and I think that that’s the message,” Vargas said.

Mandeep Chahal, an Indian national attending the University of California, Davis, said that Obama “has the power to stop the deportations of people like me.”

Her case is like that of thousands of others who live in fear of being discovered to be undocumented and subsequently deported.

Chahal, who launched a national campaign on Facebook, managed to get a judge to temporarily suspend a deportation order against her and her mother but that, she said, does not erase the memory of the treatment she received at the hands of ICE agents.

“They put an electronic shackle on my ankle. They told me that I was lucky not to be in prison. They treated me like a criminal,” Chahal said.

Mr. Obama “decided to focus on other things...If he turns his back on us, we’ll do that to him also,” said student Erika Andiola, alluding to a withdrawal of Hispanic voting support for the president in the 2012 election.

Continue fighting

Cheered by the students, Durbin promised that he will continue fighting for approval of the measure.

He urged the students to forge a “grassroots movement” via social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

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