The DREAM Act House (HR1842) and Senate (S952) bills outline who comprises DREAMers (they are only 23 pages long and available on line).
Advocates, including President Obama, always describe DREAMers as top high school graduates who were ‘brought into the country illegally at age five by their parents and know only the U.S. as their homeland”. Indeed that is a very compelling group. If the DREAM Act were limited to them alone, it would have passed easily 10 years ago. But in fact, the DREAM legislation benefits a much broader group of illegal immigrants than that.
According to the bills, “DREAMers” include any illegal immigrant who claims they came into the country before the age of 16, has been here continuously for five years, and is currently under 35 years old. But these requirements can be waived for ‘hardship’ ((sec 5 (2)), and if there are any knowingly-made false statements about entry dates etc., section 7 of the legislation assures that the applicant would still be protected from deportation.
DREAMers have to have either obtained a high school diploma or a GED -- both of which they can do off-campus and on-line. There is no English language requirement. There is no requirement to graduate from college – only attend two years (at a four-year college) or serve (two of eight years) in the military. DREAMers can even have been convicted of various crimes and have served time in an American prison (sec. 3 (D)) and still maintain a work visa (and under the legislation, eventually get a green card). The legislation specifies that the bills set no limit to the number of beneficiaries (sec. 3 (f)).
There are over 11 million (some say 20) illegal immigrants presently living in the United States; most of them are under the age of 35. Obviously millions could qualify for DREAM Act benefits.
What impact would a million or more newly legalized immigrants have on the capacity of American universities to deliver quality education, or on a state's ability to subsidize them? More importantly, what is the impact on a job market where millions of Americans and legal immigrants, many without a four-year college degree themselves, cannot find work? What number of legalizations is reasonable?
It's difficult to understand why President Obama made this decision at this time, especially since it is exactly what he told La Raza conferees two weeks ago he would not do. It has been suggested he did it to ‘rekindle’ the Latino electorate’s enthusiasm, but immigration has never been the top issue of Latino voters.
The biggest winners of the DREAM Act undoubtedly would be the million or more illegal immigrants who get a work visa, as well as some universities trying to enhance their numbers of Latino undergraduates to 25 percent in order to qualify for a $1 billion fund set up by the Department of Education for “Hispanic Serving Institutions”. But untold numbers of middle class American students and workers could be negatively affected. And it could well be a nightmare for the President’s jobs agenda for struggling middle class Americans and for his re-election chances.
Margaret (Peggy) Orchowski is the Congressional Correspondent for the Hispanic Outlook on Higher Education magazine and author of “Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria” (Rowman & Littlefield).