With President Barack Obama restarting the immigration debate by urging Congress to overhaul the broken immigration system and pass the DREAM Act as part of his plan for national immigration reform, Democrats reintroduced the controversial dream bill that would provide legal status to those who were brought to the United States illegally as children if they pursue a college education or military service.
Last year, the House — then controlled by Democrats — passed the DREAM Act, but Senate Republicans turned it down thereby crushing hopes of undocumented young immigrants — many of them Filipinos — to get some relief.
Senate Democratic leaders said they intend to hold a vote on the bill, even though the legislation fell short of passage last year after most Republicans and four Democrats opposed its advance in that chamber. It is expected to face resistance this year under the now Republican-controlled House.
“But we’re not giving up,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and the bill’s longtime champion, told the Los Angeles Times.
“This is not just a piece of legislation, it is a matter of justice.”
The bill was similarly introduced in the House by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who has reintroduced it every year since 2001. The Times said that some Democratic lawmakers would prefer to avoid the legislative battle and instead press the White House to use its executive authority to advance policies important to the immigrant community.
Still, by moving forward with the legislation as the election season unfolds, Democrats intend to put political pressure on Republicans who have expressed support for immigration rights but declined to vote for the Obama Immigration action.
DREAM Act would allow young people who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the military. The bill has long been considered one piece of a comprehensive immigration reform effort that would include enforcement and citizenship measures.
Obama Immigration Relief
The President told immigrants in the border city of El Paso, Texas that he is not abandoning his commitment to find a comprehensive solution to the immigration problem that would include a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
“We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to not only study here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here,” Mr. Obama said of the DREAM Act before an enthusiastic crowd. “In recent years, a full 25% of high-tech start-ups in the U.S. were founded by immigrants, leading to more than 200,000 jobs in America.” The President invoked the names of previous immigrants like Albert Einstein, I.M. Pei, Isaac Asimov and Andrew Carnegie, in urging support for the immigrants of the new millennium.
“We are fighting for every boy and girl…with a dream and potential just waiting to be tapped,” the President said. “We are fighting to unlock that promise, and all that it holds not just for their futures, but for the future of this great country.”
He specifically encouraged people to sign up at whitehouse.gov to show their support for reform, and put it in a plug for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. “We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military,” the President said.
Mr. Obama specifically cited New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his support of immigration reform.
Bloomberg reciprocated the President’s remark about him. “He has spoken out more and more and that’s exactly what this country needs,” the mayor said Tuesday. “We are a country built by immigrants. We are a superpower because of immigrants.”
The President said the overhaul should focus on the following:
- secure the borders and enforce the laws;
- businesses have to be held accountable if they exploit illegal workers;
- the undocumented have to admit they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, learn English;
- undergo background checks before they can get in line for legalization.
Respect, reunite families
Immigration laws should be updated to “respect families following the rules — reuniting them more quickly instead of splitting them apart,” he also said.
There are approximately 11 million undocumented in the U.S. — including an estimated 300,000 overstaying Filipinos — and they could be eligible for green cards under the proposed reforms.
Meanwhile, legal immigrants who are unable to get their children or siblings to join them due to immigration backlog could also benefit from the reforms. Naturalized Americans who petition family members generally have to wait more than 10 years in order to be reunited with them. For countries such as the Philippines, the waiting period could reach 23 years.
Republicans called the President’s renewed enthusiasm over immigration reform as nothing but political. “The President’s push to legalize millions of illegal immigrants is purely political,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“The President wasn’t able to pass his version of immigration reform when he had large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate because of bipartisan opposition.”
Mr. Obama touted major increases in security along the U.S.-Mexico border in the speech, and argued that in light of the improved safety measures, Republicans had no further grounds with which to block immigration reform — a measure he described as an “economic imperative” in America.
“We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” Mr. Obama said.
“But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I gotta say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.”
“Maybe they’ll need a moat,” he quipped.
“Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.”
And while immigration rights activists largely approved of the sentiment behind the gesture, many argue that more action must be taken — and that the president could, if he wanted to, provide serious relief for some undocumented immigrants without the help of Congress.
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