Act would make it easier for immigrants
to go to college, become citizens
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced
Thursday that she is co-sponsoring a bill that will make it easier for
undocumented immigrant students to attend college.
"Current law is unfairly punishing
thousands of young people who have spent nearly their entire lives in
this country," Gillibrand said in a prepared statement. "America
is the only home many of them know, yet they are being denied the opportunity
to achieve their full potential. This legislation says that if they
work hard and play by the rules, then they will have the opportunity
to get a good education and earn their way to legal status."
The Development, Relief and Education
for Alien Minors Act passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday.
It would repeal a section of federal law that discourages states from
providing in-state college tuition to students without a legal status
in this country, and it would allow certain students to qualify for
conditional permanent resident status, putting them on a path to citizenship.
To qualify for resident status, students
must have come to this country when they were younger than 15, have
lived here for at least five years, have earned a high school diploma
or GED, have either served in the military or attended two years of
college, and be of good moral character. Any student who commits a crime
or serious misconduct would not be eligible.
Opponents of the bill have said it would
spend money for education on undocumented immigrants at the expense
of American citizens, encourage illegal immigration and force citizens
and residents to compete with undocumented immigrants for spots in college
and university classes.
The act was introduced into both houses
of Congress on March 26.
"The DREAM Act will benefit tens
of thousands of students, and will benefit our country by enabling these
future leaders to fully develop their skills and talents," said Javier Valdes,
deputy director of the pro-immigrant group Make
the Road New York. "MRNY
looks forward to working closely with Senator Gillibrand to pass the
DREAM Act and pass just and humane immigration reform this year."
After her appointment to the Senate in
late January, Gillibrand was harshly criticized by many for her views
on illegal immigration and other issues such as gun control. Some of
her critics, mostly more liberal Democrats from downstate, discussed
the possibility of challenging her in a primary in 2010.
While in the House, Gillibrand was a
strong supporter of policies designed to stop the flow of illegal immigration
such as increasing border security and requiring employers to verify
the legal status of their employees. State Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera
of the Bronx, the senior Latino in the Assembly, said she has a "hard-line
stand on immigration, which borders on xenophobia."
After her appointment, Gillibrand toured
the state, starting with New York City, and pledged to listen to and
represent people throughout the state.
The DREAM Act, sometimes under different
names, has been introduced into Congress several times before, first
in 2001, but never passed.
Gillibrand was appointed senator by Gov.
David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton, whom President Barack Obama
appointed secretary of state.