Immigration Bill Dead, But Not DREAM ACT

Despite defeat of the Senate’s immigration bill last week,
Latino and other education leaders say they still will press for action this
year on a bill to help illegal immigrant students gain legal status as well as
access to in-state college tuition rates.

Advocacy groups say they have not abandoned efforts
to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act,
which was part of the comprehensive Senate bill that lost a crucial vote last
week. They say the DREAM Act is less controversial than other elements of that
bill and they’ve always had a contingency plan to push the idea independent of
other proposals.

“It was one of the most modest
provisions of the comprehensive immigration bill,” said Melissa Lazarin,
associate director of education policy at the National Council of La Raza in Washington,
D.C. While she acknowledged that
“everybody’s still regrouping” after last week’s defeat, advocates may try to
bring up the bill soon as part of other legislation.

Under the DREAM Act, illegal
immigrant students could seek legal status if they have a high school diploma
or the equivalent and have lived in the U.S.
for five consecutive years. These students could obtain a temporary permit and,
later, permanent residency if they complete at least two years in college or
the military.

“It hasn’t been derailed at all,”
said Josh Bernstein, federal policy director for the National
Immigration Law Center
in Washington, D.C.
“It has strong support in the House and Senate.

“We’ve always had a dual track –
the comprehensive bill and a separate bill for the DREAM Act on its own
merits,” he told Diverse.

But organizations that successfully
fought the comprehensive Senate bill said they would work just as vehemently to
stop the DREAM Act.

“We feel it’s an amnesty plan
described as an education initiative,” said Bob Dane, spokesman for Federation
for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

After advocates enter what Dane
termed a “cooling off period,” he said that he expects DREAM Act proponents to
push for approval. Yet the Senate’s debate energized a strong core of
anti-immigration sentiment, he said, something that is likely to affect future
debates even on less controversial bills.

“They may try to do piecemeal
amnesty for a small number of people,” including the DREAM Act, he said. “But
our lawmakers got a good lesson that Americans want enforcement, not amnesty.”

Bernstein agreed that the bill
faces a changed landscape after defeat of the comprehensive Senate bill, which
called for major changes to open a path to legal status for millions of
undocumented adults as well as youth. But he said he’s still hopeful about the
DREAM Act’s prospects.

“Why? Because I know it’s less
controversial than the comprehensive immigration bill,” he said. However, he
had no idea when lawmakers might take up the legislation as a separate bill.
“There’s always a hurry-up-and-wait attitude,” he added, “but it has some very
committed supporters in Congress.”

– Charles Dervarics

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