By Mike Lillis
House lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation allowing illegal-immigrant students to remain permanently and legally in the United States.
The DREAM Act — a top priority of Democrats in both Congress and the White House — was approved by a tally of 216 to 198. Eight Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the bill, while 38 Democrats voted against it.
First introduced in 2001, the House legislation extends conditional legal status for five years to those illegal aliens who:
• Were younger than 16 when they entered the country
• Have lived in the U.S. for at least five years
• Have a degree from a U.S. high school, or its equivalent
Beneficiaries can apply for an additional five years of conditional nonimmigrant status if they've completed at least two years of higher education or military service. Afterward, they could apply for permanent legal status.
Supporters of the bill said it will offer opportunities for motivated kids who are in the country by no fault of their own.
"The beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are the kind of Americans we want," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said just before the vote.
Republicans argued that the proposal grants amnesty and puts the interests of illegal aliens above those of American taxpayers.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the proposal is "a nightmare for the American people."
"It insults American workers, American taxpayers and anyone who believes in the rule of law," Smith said. "How can we consider amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants when just last week the Dept. of Labor reported that unemployment in America jumped up to 9.8 percent?"
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House bill will save taxpayers $1.4 billion over the next decade. CBO warned, however, that the reforms will begin consuming government funds after 2020, as beneficiaries become eligible for other government programs.