Group pushes plan for young immigrants who arrived illegally
Associated Press | July 17, 2005
By DAN ROBRISH
PHILADELPHIA -- Supporters of a proposed law that would benefit people who arrived in the United States illegally as children said Sunday that it would help more immigrants go on to get college degrees and contribute more to society.
During a rally held as part of the annual convention of a national Hispanic civil-rights group, people spoke out in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The proposal, known as the DREAM Act, would give undocumented youth the chance to become legal U.S. residents and possibly help them get in-state college tuition.
"We are not asking for any special treatment. We are only asking for the same right to go on and complete a higher education," Blanca Cabrera said during the rally at the convention of the National Council of La Raza. Cabrera was selected as a National Merit Scholar at her high school in Salem, Ore., and is active in a group called Latinos Unidos Siempre.
The proposal has failed in Congress in two previous sessions and has not been introduced in the current session. It would provide a conditional six-year legal status for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States for at least five years.
To qualify, the immigrants must have gotten high school diplomas or GEDs in the United States and be of good moral character. Those who have completed two years of college or served two years in the U.S. armed forces by the end of that six-year period would qualify as lawful permanent residents of the United States.
Critics of the act say it would reward illegal behavior.
"An amnesty rewards illegal immigrants and sends the message to future illegal immigrants that they can sneak in, keep their heads down long enough and eventually get green cards," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said when the act was pending in Congress in 2003.
Supporters, however, say it is unfair to hold children responsible for their parents' decisions to immigrate illegally. Speaking later Sunday at another convention event, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., cited a young woman who had arrived from Haiti as an infant and was locked up by immigration officials shortly after finishing high school. Dodd said she faced deportation even though she had college scholarships available in the United States and knew nothing about how to get by in her native land, not even the language.
"I just, in good conscience, could not see this young woman get deported," Dodd said. He said he got Congress to pass a bill specifically allowing that woman to stay in the United States, and has co-sponsored the DREAM Act because there are many more young people who deserve a similar opportunity.
Supporters at Sunday's rally also said passing the act would benefit the nation as a whole because it would help ambitious young people get higher education and contribute more to the economy.
"The overall economic benefit to our cities, states and nation would be dramatic," said Regan Cooper of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.