President Obama on Tuesday used the bully pulpit of the State of the Union address to urge Congress to approve contentious legislation it shot down just a month ago: the DREAM Act.
That proposal — which would provide illegal immigrant students a way to remain lawfully in the country — passed the House in December but didn't survive its run through the Senate.
"Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens," the president said in his annual address to Congress. "Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation.
"Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense."
The DREAM Act offers a pathway to permanent residency — and eventually citizenship — for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children if they meet certain requirements. They must have been in the country for at least five years; have earned a high school diploma, or its equivalent; and enter an institution of higher education or the military.
Supporters, including most Democrats, say the bill would empower motivated young people to develop the best of their skills for the betterment of the entire country. But opponents, including most Republicans, maintain the bill rewards people who broke the law when the minute they entered the country.
Obama's push for the DREAM Act came as introduction to a fervent call for comprehensive immigration reform — an effort that eluded Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush. Indeed, Democrats peeled off the DREAM Act as a separate bill last year because they thought it stood a much better chance than comprehensive reform.
Still, those past failures didn't seem to deter Obama on Tuesday.
"I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration," he said. "I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.
"I know that debate will be difficult and take time," he added. "But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation."