DREAM Act to get Senate hearing for first time

David Charns Contributor
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WASHINGTON — Supporters of the DREAM Act say now is the time to pass legislation providing children of illegal immigrants American citizenship. But it’s not likely the bill will get any traction in the Republican-controlled House.

For the first time in its decade-long progression through Congress, the proposed legislation will be the topic of a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D- Ill., who has long championed youth immigration reform, will chair the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security as it hears from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will testify.

If passed, The DREAM Act would allow children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for more than five years, and have graduated from high school (or have obtained a GED), the opportunity to become a citizen by going to college or serving in the military.

The House passed a version of the act in December under Democratic leadership. It failed in the Senate by five votes.

This time around things are different because of Republican victories in the last elections. (GOP looks to capitalize on women’s vote)

Democratic supporters, including Duncan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said in a conference call Monday that the Senate needs to move the ball further.

“We know we have a very difficult journey in the House,” said Carlos Saavedra, the national coordinator of United We Dream, an immigrant advocacy organization that has worked to pass the DREAM Act. “We are coming here because we want to make sure the president takes notice.”

Opponents agree it will be difficult for the bill to move through Congress anytime soon.

“It’s extraordinary unlikely that this bill will pass,” said Steven Camarota, the director of research for the non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies. Camarota will also testify on Tuesday. “[The bill] doesn’t have the votes.”

Camarota said the idea of the DREAM Act seems moral, but that the legislation has problems.

“There’s no enforcement,” he said. “You don’t want to encourage more people to come in.”

Ira Mehlman of the Federation of American Immigration Reform agreed. (Kudlow suggests Dems are obsessed with ending Bush tax cuts)

“The obvious signal by the passage of the DREAM Act is for other people around the world to do the same thing,” Mehlman said. “Once you establish this, there’s no going back.”

Mehlman said the distribution of votes in Congress lead to a fair chance at the bill’s passing.

“They couldn’t get it though the last session when the Democrats had solid majorities,” he said. “It is unlikely they’d be even to get it through even the Senate this time, and the Republicans in the House made it clear they’re not interested in any amnesty legislation.”

Even so, supporters say Tuesday’s hearing is meaningful.

“We are grateful that Sen. Durbin is pushing for the DREAM Act and that we are having this hearing,” said Juan Escalance, the communications director at Dream Activist, another advocacy group pushing for the passage of the DREAM Act.