DREAM Act Not Ready to Die in 111th

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DREAM Act supporters are making one final push in the 111th Congress before Republicans take over the House in January.

President Barack Obama and Hispanic congressmen announced yesterday they will attempt to get a vote in the lame-duck session on the 10-year-old bill that would provide citizenship for law-abiding immigrant college students who have been in the country at least five years.

This latest version of DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) would be framed in the lame-duck session – which began this week – as a “down payment” for further comprehensive immigration reform in the next Congress, as pre-election politics can now be put aside in favor of actual accomplishments, according to White House and Congressional statements.

This development came after Obama discussed immigration reform strategy yesterday with leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Nydia Velezquez (D-N.Y.). The meeting led to a White House statement that, “The President and the CHC leaders believe that, before adjourning [the lame-duck session], Congress should approve the DREAM Act.”

Gutierrez’ office also released a press statement saying Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are all on board for a DREAM vote this session. Politico reported yesterday Obama would be making personal phone calls to any hesitant Senators to get them on board.

DREAM would allow community colleges to increase enrollment due to the major provision in the act allowing immigrants to achieve a pathway to citizenship upon spending two years in college or two years in the military, as long as they moved to the United States before they turned 16, have lived here at least five years and have no criminal record. DREAM would also repeal a federal law that penalizes states who provide higher education benefits, including in-state tuition benefits, to undocumented students.

As reported earlier ("Will it Ever Be More Than a DREAM?") the DREAM Act has received some bipartisan support in the past, though pre-election politics caused several Republican supporters to change their mind this year. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), for instance, has been a big GOP supporter of the bill and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is one of the flip-floppers.

A poll this fall from conservative-leaning Rasmussen reports showed a slight majority of likely American voters favored DREAM’s passage.

DREAM seemingly failed for good in the 111th after its attachment to the Defense authorization bill, which also carried a repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy for gays. The bill was filibustered in the Senate in September. A staffer for DREAM’s longest and most vocal Senate champion, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) then told Youth Today a DREAM lame-duck vote would be unlikely.

News of DREAM’s resurgence yesterday did not surprise lobbyists.

“I think there are going to be some [Senate and House] members who would vote for it right now who might not have voted for it before because they were defeated or are retiring and may decide it’s one of the last few things they want to support,” said Steven Bloom, assistant director of federal relation at the American Council on Education.

The White House indicated in its statement  yesterday that DREAM’s passage would be the first step towards bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bills passed in the 112th Congress beginning in January.

“The President repeated his hope that, with the election season’s pressures past, Congressional Republicans would work with their Democratic colleagues not only to strengthen security at the nation’s borders, but also to restore responsibility and accountability to what everyone agrees is a broken immigration system,” the statement read. 

One experienced pro-DREAM lobbyist is convinced the current political timing is playing a bigger role than any potential immigration reform down the road.

“There’s no secret that we’re going to be in a situation that’s not as favorable to doing the DREAM Act starting in the next Congress,” said Jim Hermes, director of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). “This is definitely the most opportune time that we have if we can take a shot and get this done now, not just because of the political implications but there are real people’s lives that are being deeply affected by not having this act in place.”