ICE: DREAM Act Is Good for Public Safety

Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security weigh in on the DREAM Act.

By Julianne Hing Dec 17, 2010

On the day before a scheduled Senate vote on the DREAM Act, senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security weighed in on the DREAM Act to offer their endorsement of the bill. This afternoon the heads of the nation’s immigration enforcement agencies said the bill would serve the nation’s public safety needs, and help the country focus its immigration enforcement efforts on those the nation wants most to deport.

"From the border perspective, passing something like this would in fact have a positive effect on our ability to address our nation’s borders," said Customs and Border Patrol Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar. "It would support our efforts to focus on safety threats, smugglers and human traffickers." Aguilar called the DREAM Act "a great force enhancer," and said that contrary to DREAM Act opponents’ criticisms, the border was more secure than it had ever been.

"From our perspective the DREAM Act and its passage by the Senate is entirely consistent with this [enforcement policy] focusing limited resources of government on public safety, border security and the integrity of the system," said John Morton, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Morton said that ICE’s priority was to focus on "the removal of criminal offenders" and last year his agency had deported nearly a record 392,000 people, and an unprecedented number–195,000–who’d been convicted of criminal offenses. Yet the majority people who were deported had never been convicted of any crime before, and the majority of those who did have a criminal record had been convicted of minor infractions like traffic violations, or nonviolent drug offenses.

ICE continues to deport undocumented youth who would be eligible for the DREAM Act. Those who’ve been able to stay have been granted temporary deferred action or private bills, but only after public outcry from community-organized campaigns. Morton echoed statements made by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano when he said his agency’s enforcement plans would not change should the DREAM Act not pass.

"Were the DREAM Act not to pass we would handle the situation as we do now," Morton said, "which is: enforce the law, focusing on our priorities and act on individual cases on a case by case basis."

The DREAM Act would allow undocumented youth who have lived in the country for at least five years to get on a path to citizenship if they have a clean criminal record and commit two years to higher education or the military, and clear a host of other hurdles and checks. The House passed the DREAM Act last week, and it is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Saturday morning. The DHS officials’ comments offer a final endorsement for the narrow immigration bill, which by White House estimates would benefit 65,000 undocumented youth.

Those who oppose the DREAM Act today are anti-immigrant groups like NumbersUSA and ALIPAC, who say the bill "rewards" undocumented immigrants. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions called the DREAM Act "amnesty" and said that the DREAM Act would encourage more people to immigrate to the U.S., even though the DREAM Act only benefits those who’ve already lived in the country for five years, and demands that eligible youth get on a decade-long probationary waiting period before they can qualify even for a green card.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has said she opposes the DREAM Act because it would allow young people to sponsor their family members for naturalization, and thus benefit many more people than she’s comfortable with. However, the DREAM Act would force undocumented youth to twelve years after they’ve been naturalized before they could sponsor any family member.

"There’s nowhere left to hide," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, in a statement. "On Saturday, everyone will know where each and every Senator stands on the fate of these talented young people."

A Gallup poll released Dec. 10 found that a majority of Americans–54 percent–support the DREAM Act.