8/3/2010 2:40:00 PM Immigrant education bill seen as possible
Catholic News Service photo Supporters of the DREAM Act in Brentwood, Calif.
On the DREAM Act
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is bipartisan legislation originally sponsored by Sen. Orin Hatch, R.-Utah and Richard Durbin, D. Ill. Law-abiding undocumented youth who were 15 or younger when they entered the U.S. would be eligible for a six-year long conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service.
During the first six years, the immigrant would be granted conditional status, and would be required to graduate from a two-year community college or complete at least two years towards a four-year degree, or serve two years in the U.S. military. After the six-year period, an immigrant who met at least one of these three conditions would be eligible to apply for legal permanent resident status.
During this six-year conditional period, immigrants would not be eligible for federal higher education grants such as Pell grants, but they would be able to apply for student loans and work study.
The bill has been floating in Congress for a decade. In 2007, it was eight votes short for ending debate in the Senate. It was reintroduced in 2009 and now has a long list of co-sponsors.
Congress is not likely to consider comprehensive immigration reform until after the new year. But there is a better chance for passage of a bill that would allow young immigrants to attend college or serve in the military as a way to legal status.
Though rejected in years past, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act has a better chance now because it's less controversial than broader change.
"It would be a nice down payment on comprehensive immigration reform," says Geoff Scowcroft, who manages immigration legal services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Portland.
Scowcroft hears regularly from Oregon students who would benefit from the legislation known as DREAM. The set of bills would allow law-abiding undocumented youths to obtain federal loans as opposed to a common fate — being blocked from college and deported.
The benefit would go to about 65,000 youths nationwide each year.
Scowcroft tells the story of a team of undocumented high school youths in Arizona who entered a robot-building competition against university teams and won. But they were ineligible to attend college with federal loans, which means college was out of reach.
"It seems like a waste to me," he says.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops supports the proposed legislation.
The bishops have launched a Justice for Immigrants campaign to call for comprehensive immigration reform, but the campaign is also focusing on DREAM.
"Even though the DREAM Act is not our ultimate goal and will not cover everyone, it would be an incredible victory that would provide hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth with a pathway to earn legal status and citizenship," says Jaci Braga, field director for Justice for Immigrants. "Winning reform for our youth could be an important stepping stone towards winning immigration reform for everyone."
Campaign leaders are urging dioceses to coordinate vigils, meetings and press conferences for the first week of September to advocate for both DREAM and comprehensive reform. That's when members of Congress are home for break.
Catholics are being asked to contact their federal lawmakers.
At a July 21 rally of religious groups in downtown Portland, Victor Mena of the Washington County Youth Movement appealed to the crowd to support the act.
Mena, who has been in Oregon since elementary school, recalls the story of a young Beaverton woman who had no immigration papers and was sent back to Mexico, despite not having lived there since she was an infant. The woman had just finished earning a degree at Portland Community College.
Often, protests for the DREAM Act include youths in high school graduation gowns holding signs that read, "Now what?" Last month, protesters in the Hart Senate Office Building were arrested after staging a sit-in. One sign read, "Undocumented and Unafaid."