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Late last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a motion for cloture with a new final version of the DREAM Act,S. 3992, that would given young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. The legislation could be voted on as early as Saturday.
Many proponents are perturbed by restrictions in the new bill, but the leadership appears open to the new compromises — the question is whether this will be enough to win over support from wavering Senators. Under the changes by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the bill’s primary sponsor, the DREAM Act will provide undocumented students will conditional non-immigrant status, which act like a temporary visa, rather than conditional legal residency. The adjusting students would thus likely not qualify for the health benefits enacted by Congress last year.
Durbin also removed the portion of the legislation that would have allowed states to set their own requirements for in-state tuition without being subject to frivolous lawsuits; however, students would be eligible for federal student loans and work study, and permitted to work and travel overseas.
To qualify for the DREAM Act, undocumented immigrants not only need to have been brought to the U.S. as minors, they also must be no older than 30 years old at the time of the bill’s enactment, a decrease from the previous age of 35 that has particularly concerned advocates. However, the Secretary of Homeland Security would have the discretion to waive grounds of ineligibility for humanitarian purposes or family unity. International students and children of H-1 non-immigrants who often age-out of their family petitions would also qualify if they arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16.
Youth with conditional non-immigrant status will now have to wait 10 years, rather than 6, before applying for legal permanent residency, and then apply for citizenship after another 3 years. At first glance, this might just seem like a much longer wait, but by giving undocumented youth 10 years to fulfill a 2-year college or military service requirement, Sen. Durbin is allowing more immigrant youth to qualify while crafting the bill as tougher. Those who do not take the education path would have to join the armed forces, not just any uniformed services. Most importantly, the legislation provides for an early adjustment to legal permanent residency upon marriage, getting work sponsorship, or through an approved family visa petition.
Security provisions are much tighter under the new legislation, but are comparable to what any legal permanent resident faces upon immigration to America. Besides retaining ineligibility for those with criminal convictions, a qualifying beneficiary needs biometrics and medical examinations, and cannot practice polygamy, prostitution, be a member of the Communist Party, or be otherwise engaged in acts of terror against the United States.
It is important to note that this is not the final version of the bill. Amendments can be added and, if it does pass the Senate, the House may pass a different version and a conference committee would need to work out a compromise — though with little time left on the legislative calendar, it is more likely that the House would pass the Senate version.
Even with the changes, current Senate whip counts do not look good. The most likely Republican targets to get the necessary votes include a trio of women: Sen. Kay Bailey-Hutchison (TX), who has indicated in the past that she likes the temporary visa option, Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME). and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). These powerful and extraordinary women have the chance of a lifetime to become heroes in the immigrant community when they cast the deciding votes on the legislation in the very near future. Tell them to not blow this opportunity for themselves and for the young people who want to serve America.