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House passes DREAM Act

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House passes DREAM Act

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By a 216-198 vote, the House passed the DREAM Act on Wednesday night, a measure that would grant conditional residency to those brought to the U.S. before the age of 15 if they complete two years of college or military service.

Southern Arizona's Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords, both Democrats, supported the measure.

The law will be considered by the Senate on Thursday. Senate Republicans have vowed to block any floor votes before Bush-era tax cuts are extended. A test vote on the bill was postponed Wednesday.

"The young people who will be eligible for the DREAM Act know no country other than the United States," said Giffords in a news release.

"This is their home and they are part of our communities," said the congresswoman from Arizona's 8th Congressional District. "If these individuals want to serve the United States by putting on a military uniform, we should find a way to make that possible. If they want to strengthen our economy by seeking higher education, we should find a way to make that possible, too."

Southern Arizona's other representative has been a strong supporter of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.

House passage of the bill is "an important milestone on the road to a better, fairer nation," Grijalva said in a news release.

"“The children of undocumented parents who excel in school, play sports alongside their friends, aspire to the same professional dreams as their peers, and contribute just as much as anyone to the success of this nation need a chance to become U.S. citizens," he said.

"There is no legitimate reason to keep millions of hard-working young people in legal limbo, fearful of imminent arrest, because of decisions their parents made years ago," Grijalva said.

"Current immigration law punishes highly motivated youths by preventing them from reaching their full potential. Their crime: having no say in their parents’ decision to come to this country illegally," Rep. Grijalva said before the vote.

"The DREAM Act would restore the American ideal of equal opportunity for these young people who want to be productive contributors to our society," he said.

Many Republicans referred to the bill as a "nightmare act" during the House debate Wednesday.

"The 'nightmare act' is amnesty," said Rep. Steve King (R-IA). "This legislation seeks to reward those who are under the law eligible to be sent back to their home country."

"This is a bill that gives amnesty to more than 2 million people who are in the country illegally," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.).

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said the bill would "open the doors, yes, to criminal aliens attaining permanent status to the detriment of legal immigrants."

The debate saw the generally united Republican caucus divided, with two GOP representatives speaking in support of the DREAM Act. Florida Republicans in particular, including Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, called for passage. 8 Republicans voted for the bill.

"This is not amnesty," Ros-Lehtinen said. "This bill is a sensible and pragmatic compromise that reflects the generosity and the good will of this country and its citizens, a country that opened up its arms to me as a refugee child, and my parents as Cuban refugees."

The Democrats were mostly behind the DREAM Act, but 38 voted against it.

"No one holds children culpable in the wrongdoing of their parents," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

"These are young people who broke no law. These are young people who played by the rules," he said. "The beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are the kind of young people we want."

Giffords cited an expanded military recruiting pool as a factor in her support of the measure.

The Pentagon included the DREAM Act in its latest strategic plan, Giffords said. The Defense Department considers the law an essential part of its ability to maintain an all-volunteer force, she said.

Giffords has appeared on many pundits' lists of those undecided on the law, but she's been a long-time supporter of the measure, said her spokesman, C.J. Karamargin.

Giffords was a co-sponsor, with Rep. Raul Grijalva,  of the STRIVE Act in 2007, a law that included the provisions of the DREAM Act. That bill was crafted by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), but failed to pass Congress.

Flake voted against the DREAM Act on Wednesday.

"By moving ahead with legalization alone, Democrats have little incentive to support increased enforcement and a temporary worker program, and without those components we’ve not truly addressed the problem," Flake said in a news release. He said he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform.

A Congressional Budget Office study estimated that the act would help from 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants.

Key changes in the DREAM Act

A list of changes from the original version of the bill, provided by Rep. Grijalva.

1. Does not grant lawful permanent resident (LPR) status to anyone for at least 10 years; instead, an individual who meets the bill's requirements becomes a "conditional nonimmigrant." Under the new House bill, conditional nonimmigrants must meet the bill's college or military service requirement after 5 years, at which point they must file a new application to extend their status for 5 additional years. Only after 10 years as a conditional nonimmigrant may a DREAM Act beneficiary apply for LPR status. Earlier versions of the DREAM Act provided "conditional permanent resident status" for 6 years, at which time those eligible could apply for LPR status.

2. Charges DREAM Act participants a significant surcharge of $525 upon filing an initial application for conditional nonimmigrant status and an additional surcharge of $2,000 when they apply to extend their status at year 5. Previous versions of the DREAM Act—including the most recent Senate bill—had no such surcharges. These surcharges will ensure that DREAM Act participants will not increase our net direct spending. In fact, in an initial estimate, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this updated House version of the DREAM Act will increase revenues by $1.7 billion, and when combined with other savings, result in total deficit reduction of more than $2.2 billion, over the next 10 years.

3. Does not change the current federal restriction on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. The earlier versions of the DREAM Act repealed this restriction.

4. Further restricts eligibility for the DREAM Act to persons who are 29 and younger on the date of enactment. S. 729 set that age cap at 35. H.R. 1751 contained no age cap at all.

5. Limits "chain migration." DREAM Act participants would have very limited ability to sponsor family members for permanent residence. They could never sponsor extended family members, could only begin the long process of sponsoring spouses or unmarried children after at least 10 years, and would have to wait at least 13 years to sponsor parents or siblings. Even after family members had been sponsored, they would still have to wait for years in the family immigration lines before being able to finally immigrate to the United States. Any undocumented family members already in the U.S. face additional barriers under existing law that will continue to make it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain lawful status.

6. Specifically excludes conditional non-immigrants from receiving government subsidies to participate in the health insurance exchanges created by health reform. Conditional nonimmigrants are also ineligible for Medicaid, Food Stamps, and similar entitlement programs.

7. Contains tougher criminal and immigration restrictions on eligibility for conditional immigrant status by specifically excluding anyone who: has committed one felony or three misdemeanors; is likely to become a public charge; has engaged in voter fraud or unlawful voting; has committed marriage fraud; has abused a student visa; has engaged in persecution; or poses a public health risk.

8. Establishes a one-year application deadline. An individual would be required to apply for conditional nonimmigrant status within one year of obtaining a high school degree or GED or the effective date of interim regulations under the Act.

9. Requires applicants to prove prima facie eligibility under the DREAM Act in order to receive a stay of removal pending adjudication of the application. The DREAM Act is not a safe harbor from deportation.

10. Requires robust information sharing. The Department of Homeland Security must provide information from an individual's DREAM Act application to any federal, state, tribal, or local law enforcement agency. Information concerning fraud in an application for relief under the DREAM Act or any other criminal conduct also will be used for immigration enforcement, law enforcement, or national security purposes.

11. Places the burden of proof on a DREAM Act applicant. Unlike in past bills, it is the applicant who must demonstrate eligibility by a preponderance of the evidence.

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