Debate Forum Topic 12/15/10

Immigration Debates Flares Up Over Dream Act Legislation.

The DREAM Act, officially known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, was first introduced in August 2001. This legislation creates a path to citizenship for children under the age of 16 brought to the U.S. illegally and who attend college or have joined the military, among other requirements. As the 111th Congress grinds to a close, this legislation has become a top priority for Democrats.

Just as the previous immigration reform legislation stirred angry debate in Congress and the nation, the Dream Act has also become a flash point in an ongoing partisan fight over how to reform the nation’s immigration laws. Republicans have taken the position that before any reform can be enacted, the federal government has to take on the serious challenge of sealing the border.

The House took up the measure last week and passed the Dream Act by a margin of 216-198. This legislation has been viewed by Hispanic activists and immigrant advocates as a down payment on what they had hoped would be broader action by President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. With Democrats in control of Washington for much of the last two years, immigration activists had hoped for legislation to give the nation’s 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants a chance to gain legal status. Critics campaigned against the legislation, labeling it a backdoor grant of amnesty that would encourage more foreigners to sneak into the U.S. in hopes of being legalized eventually.

The House Bill would let undocumented individuals qualify for conditional legal immigrant status once they have completed two years of military service or two years of college if they are 30 years old or younger, and were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16. They also must have been here at least five years and have finished high school in the U.S. In addition they must also have avoided any serious run-ins with the law. Supporters say the young people who would be covered have been successful high school students, but have been blocked from leading productive adult lives because of their undocumented status. Military leaders support the bill, which they say would increase the number of possible recruits. Many leaders in higher education also support it.

According to some estimates, more than two million of the nation’s illegal immigrants could be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act. The leading Republican on Judiciary Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, criticizes the bill for pushing what he called a “reckless proposal for mass amnesty” that “incentivizes” more illegal immigration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, last week said a cloture vote would be held in the Senate. A cloture vote would end debate and bring the bill up for a vote. One day after the House passed the immigration bill, U.S. Senate Democrats chose not to bring the measure to a vote. As the Democratic leadership counted heads they voted to table their own bill after it became clear that they could not muster the 60 votes needed to pass a procedural motion.

The Senate Democratic leadership promises to reintroduce the bill before this current session is over.

Forum Question of the Week:

Is the DREAM Act a backdoor attempt for achieving amnesty for illegal immigrants? Or is it a humanitarian measure targeted to help young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children?

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