Senate Dems Bring DREAM Act Back to Life for 2011

Five months after a bitter defeat in the Senate, the narrow immigration bill to benefit undocumented immigrant youth was reintroduced today in the Senate.

By Julianne Hing May 11, 2011

The DREAM Act is back. Five months after a bitter defeat in the Senate last December, the narrow immigration bill to benefit undocumented immigrant youth was reintroduced today in the Senate.

"They were not only graduates of schools, they became valedictorians, star athletes, honor roll students, ROTC leaders," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said today of the millions of undocumented youth who’ve been raised in the country but have no legal status to work and serve the country.

"And they can be our future doctors, soldiers, journalists, and even United States senators. They’ll make America a better place. These students are hoping and praying that the U.S. Senate will find the courage to pass the DREAM Act which we are reintroducing today."

It’s a version of a speech Durbin’s given many times. The DREAM Act has been around since 2001, and Durbin was one of the original sponsors of the bill, which would allow undocumented youth who clear a host of hurdles to eventually become eligible for citizenship if they commit two years to college or the military was reintroduced today in the Senate. A similar bill is expected to be reintroduced in the House today by Reps. Howard Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Under the latest versions of the law, immigrant youth would have to have entered the country before the age of 16 but still be under the age of 30 at the time of the bill’s passage. They must have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and submit to background checks. Those with a felony or more than two misdemeanors would be ineligible. While there are an estimated two million undocumented youth in the country right now, the White House estimated last year that 65,000 would have benefited from the bill.

In the final days of the last Congress, the House passed the DREAM Act in a historic vote. It was the first time that the bill had cleared either chamber of Congress. And even though it won a bipartisan majority with 55 votes in the Senate, it could not clear a Republican-led filibuster. In the aftermath, Senate Democrats have blamed Republicans for killing the bill, but five Democrats also backed the filibuster.

"I’ll never forget the faces of those young people after the vote," Durbin said, recalling moments when he greeted DREAM Act backers after the Saturday morning vote. "They were heartbroken, many were crying, ready to give up. But I said: I’m not giving up on you, don’t give up on us."

While Durbin and DREAM Act stalwarts like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are sticking by the bill, some Republicans are not. The bill is being reintroduced with 32 sponsors, but Republican Dick Lugar, a longtime backer of the DREAM Act, is missing this time around.

"I believe there are people of good will on the Republican side of the aisle, especially some who in the past have been advocates for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, will join with us," Reid said, ever optimistic about his colleagues’ ability to come around for the bill. "This is not a contest between people who are Democrats and Republicans, even though that’s how it’s played out recently because Republicans simply are not willing to step forward and help."

Last month Reid and 21 other senators signed a letter to President Obama calling on him to grant deferred action to the undocumented immigrant youth who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act last year. The Obama administration has refused such an option, and continues to deport would-be DREAMers.

"I am someone that maintains the faith, just like the DREAMers have faith that things are going to change."