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DREAM Act - Still Alive - December 4, 2010

As we go to press (December 14, 2010), the DREAM Act, a bill that would offer a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children, remains alive in the 111th Congress. The DREAM Act is still expected to be considered by Congress before it adjourns and the session is ended. If passage is unsuccessful, the bill must be reintroduced and considered anew in the 112th Congress come January. The following is the status of this ameliorative immigration legislation.

On December 8, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by a vote of 216-198 the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act. Senator Reid, who had vowed to bring up the measure during his recent re-election campaign, worked closely with the House leadership to determine which chamber should consider DREAM first. It was decided that the chances for overall success were best if the House considered its bill first. Their strategy paid off. The Senate was set to consider its version the next day, December 9th, but Reid and others quickly realized they did not have the necessary votes to overcome an important procedural vote and pulled the Senate bill from consideration. As Majority Leader in the Senate, he had the power to do so. Senator Reid next undertook several strategic procedural moves, substituting the House bill in the Senate and postponing consideration until more support could be galvanized. The legislation is now expected to be considered later this week. It must pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama before it becomes law.

The DREAM Act would offer a six-year, conditional status to eligible children under the age of 16 who entered the U.S. illegally but have lived here for at least five years. Other requirements include graduating from high school or obtaining a General Education Development (GED) diploma and demonstrating "good moral character." Before moving forward, students in conditional status would need to pass criminal background checks and attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. The bill also imposes stiff filing fees at the time of application. Proponents, including President Obama and Democratic leaders, say the bill offers legal standing to young people brought to the United States who have bettered themselves and served their new country, while opponents claim it is a form of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Shortly after the House passed the DREAM Act, President Obama issued a statement congratulating the House for its work and urging the Senate to do the same "so that I can sign it into law as soon as possible."

The Senate, by pulling its bill so that it can take up the version passed by the House, now has a simpler path to victory; it can pass the House-passed bill and immediately send it to the President for signature. By contrast, if the Senate were to consider and pass its own version, a potentially lengthy conference committee process reconciling the two bills would have been required, as well as another round of voting.

The momentum from the House vote, the Senate vote on tax cuts, and the more economically palatable version of DREAM Act introduced by the House could help achieve success for a piece of legislation that was first introduced 10 years ago.