Education Secretary Arne Duncan today called for Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would provide certain inadmissible immigrant students with the opportunity to obtain permanent residency if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year college.
"I'm very hopeful that Congress in a bipartisan way will start the debate on the DREAM Act and then ultimately pass it," Duncan said during a press conference call.
Students who qualify for DREAM Act residency must have arrived in the US as minors, been in the country for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment and be graduates of US high schools. They must also be of "good moral character," a legal term often used in immigration law that requires candidates for citizenship to have a clean record and be registered with the Selective Service System.
Approximately 55,000 students a year could qualify for achieving citizenship through the DREAM Act. Its passage, Duncan said, is particularly important because "we have to educate our way to a better economy ... the differences in income levels and taxes paid over a 40-year work career are staggering."
"One generation ago [the US] led the world" in college graduation rates, Duncan said. "At the end of the day we have to have a much better educated workforce ... we need folks who can function well in a knowledge economy. [There's] an untapped pool of talent who are being denied the opportunity."
By passing the DREAM Act, Congress will "ultimately do the right thing by these children and by the country."
The DREAM Act has historically attracted bipartisan support. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) co-sponsored its reintroduction to the Senate with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana). In October, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) promised to bring the DREAM Act to a vote even if Democrats lost their majority after the midterm elections. GOP Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) have also backed the bill, with Diaz-Balart recently stating that he would support it during a lame-duck vote.
By contrast, many incoming Congressional Republicans have stated that their first priority is to introduce a bill that would deny birthright citizenship to the US-born children of illegal immigrants. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is expected to present the legislation to the House with support from future Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).
Duncan stressed that the DREAM Act "has been worked on in a bipartisan manner in the past" and that now is "as good a time as any."
"We could wait another two years or five years. Every year that's another 55,000 children."