An honor student and leader of the UCLA marching band, plans to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates in the spring—if Congress lets him. The student is one among the potential beneficiaries of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors bill—commonly known as the Dream Act—that would give some illegal immigrants an opportunity to become U.S. citizens.
The bill would grant six years of legal residency to high-school graduates who have lived in the U.S. continuously for five years and arrived by the age of 15. They would become eligible for citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military for two years during the legal residency period.
To supporters, the Dream Act would encourage young people to join the military and attend college, two laudable goals. However, to opponents, the bill is tantamount to an amnesty program for children whose parents broke U.S. immigration laws. Additionally, opponents believe passage of the Dream Act would entice more people to enter the U.S. illegally.
The first version of the Dream Act was introduced in August 2001 with bipartisan support. But it has languished amid efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul. The legislation was last introduced in October 2007.
Backers of the bill are expected to mount an aggressive campaign in coming days. But any attempt to pass immigration legislation could prove difficult ahead of the elections.
Pentagon officials support the Dream Act. In its strategic plan for fiscal years 2010-2012, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness cited the Dream Act as a “smart” way to attract quality recruits to the all-volunteer force.
About 825,000 youngsters in the country illegally would likely qualify for legal status under the bill, according to a recent analysis by the independent Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.
Three out of four potential Dream Act beneficiaries reside in 10 states, led by California, Texas, Florida, New York and Arizona. The University of California’s 11 undergraduate campuses enroll 181,700 students. Among them are 340 to 630 illegal immigrants.
Without the Dream Act, illegal university students would have no legal job prospects after they graduate.