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Scholars Call for Passage of the DREAM Act

Prospects for the U.S. Senate to approve the DREAM Act don't look strong, but advocates of the proposed legislation that would provide a path to legalization for some undocumented youths are doing what they can this week to convince senators to pass it.

The word on Capitol Hill is that once the Congress resolves the tax-cut issue, a few senators who supported the DREAM Act in the past but haven't recently may decide to support it.

As part of this push, four prominent scholars of students from immigrant families held a conference call with press yesterday to voice support for the DREAM Act. The call was hosted by the Immigration Policy Center of the Washington-based American Immigration Council. The scholars were Roberto G. Gonzales, of the University of Washington School of Social Work; Douglas S. Massey, of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Rubén G. Rumbaut, of the University of California Irvine School of Social Sciences; and Carola Suarez-Orozco, from New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

The center also reissued a statement signed by 288 scholars, including the four who hosted the call, arguing for passage of the DREAM Act. The list includes a number of scholars whose work I frequently write about on this blog or for Education Week, including Bruce Fuller, from the University of California, Berkeley, and Patricia Gándara, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, approved by the House last Wednesday would provide a path to legalization for undocumented high school graduates who meet certain criteria and complete two years of college or military service. To be eligible, the graduates would have to have arrived in the United States before age 16 and be no older than 30. They also would have to have lived in this country for five continuous years and have no criminal record.

The Senate was scheduled to cast a procedural vote last Thursday to move its version of the DREAM Act forward. But realizing that he didn't have the votes for the act to be considered by the full Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., instead led lawmakers to table the act in the hopes that he could garner more support for it before the end of the lame-duck session in Congress. The Senate has put its version of the DREAM Act aside and is expected to vote on the House version of the act, which is quite similar. The House version has a few nuanced differences, such as a $550 fee for youths to initially apply for the benefits of the bill and a $2,000 fee for them to apply for legal status five years after the initial application. Those fees aren't in the Senate version of the bill.

While the DREAM Act had bipartisan support when it was first introduced in Congress in 2001, now Democrats are generally for it and Republicans are against it. Interestingly, Linda Chavez, a conservative Latina, wrote in a column published this week that by opposing the DREAM Act, Republicans are fostering a false message to Latinos crafted by Democrats: "Democrats are your friends; Republicans are not."

Chavez, who is the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank based in Falls Church, Va., says, "The refusal of all but a tiny handful of Republicans to vote for the Dream Act will become a future nightmare."

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