WASHINGTON — A pared-down immigration bill that would give as many as 2.1 million undocumented immigrants under 35 a shot at higher education and legal status is receiving renewed interest because of the short time frame before the November midterm elections.
The DREAM Act — or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors legislation — would give undocumented young people the chance to earn permanent residency and eventually citizenship if they graduate from U.S. high schools, have been in the country at least five years continuously and meet educational or military service stipulations. The bill was first introduced in Congress in 2004.
President Barack Obama gave a speech last week intended to jump-start comprehensive immigration legislation, but some advocates think a piecemeal approach might be more successful.
According to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute, California ranks first in the nation with an estimated 553,000 potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, or 26 percent of the total. Texas is second with 258,000 estimated eligible under the bill, Florida is third with 192,000, followed by New York, with 146,000, and Arizona, with 114,000.
Critics say the legislation, which is pending in the Senate, would open the door to amnesty, but a report by the Migration Policy Institute estimates that only 825,000 of the 2.1 million potential beneficiaries might actually participate.
DREAM bill sponsor Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is open to making it part of an overall package, aides said, or moving it separately. It last failed to pass the Senate in 2007.
"We should not punish children for their parents' mistakes," Durbin said. "That is not the American way. The DREAM Act says to these kids: 'America will give you a chance. We will give you the opportunity to earn your way to legal status if you work hard and play by the rules.'"
The Migration Policy Institute report concludes that the DREAM Act would have a wide reach.
"While most of the potential DREAM Act beneficiaries reside in traditional immigrant destination states such as California and Texas, it's interesting that the legislation could touch the lives of more Hispanic youth and young adults proportionately in new destination states such as Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, Georgia and North Carolina," said Jeanne Batalova, an MPI policy analyst. "More than one in 10 Hispanics under age 35 in those new destination states potentially would stand to benefit from passage of the DREAM Act."
States with most potential DREAM Act beneficiaries
State..... Estimate..... % of total
United States..... 2,150,000 .....100
California..... 553,000..... 26
Texas..... 258,000..... 12
Florida..... 192,000..... 9
New York..... 146,000..... 7
Arizona..... 114,000..... 5
Illinois..... 95,000 .....4
New Jersey..... 90,000..... 4
Georgia..... 74,000..... 3
North Carolina..... 51,000..... 2
Colorado..... 46,000..... 2
Virginia..... 45,000..... 2
Nevada .....41,000..... 2
Maryland .....39,000..... 2
Oregon .....31,000 .....1
Utah .....23,000 .....1
Nebraska..... 11,000..... 1
Notes: Only 16 states with sufficient sample sizes of their estimated DREAM beneficiaries are presented in the above table.
Source: Migration Policy Institute
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