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Immigration Bill: What Happens to Youngest Undocumented Children?

As many as 1 million undocumented children who were brought to the United States at a very young age would have to wait as long as their parents—at least 13 years—to pursue citizenship under the current version of the bipartisan immigration reform measure being debated and shaped (and reshaped) in the U.S. Senate.

These so-called "little DREAMers" would miss out on the speedier path to citizenship that their older siblings and peers would benefit from under the DREAM provisions in the legislation. That provision—essentially a version of the long-stalled DREAM Act— would create a five-year path to citizenship for those who are already old enough to have graduated from high school, earned a GED, completed two years of college, or spent four years in the military. As currently crafted, the measure would benefit undocumented immigrants who entered as children but are now over the age of 16 and can meet the other conditions.

Immigrant advocates say forcing the youngest undocumented immigrants onto the far longer route to earning citizenship would be unfair and counterproductive.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, agrees, and has introduced an amendment to the bill (one of more than 300 amendments introduced last week) that would extend the five-year path to all undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

"They were brought to this country through no fault or choice of their own, but they are too young to qualify" for the five-year path, Blumenthal said in a call with reporters earlier today. "All children who are immigrants should have this opportunity to achieve the American dream in the country they call home."

Blumenthal is not in the bipartisan "Gang of Eight," the group of senators who crafted the immigration bill, but he is a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, which is set to resume its markup of the legislation this week. Most of the little DREAMers that would benefit from Blumenthal's proposal are likely enrolled in public schools and the amendment has drawn support from education groups such as the National Education Association.

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