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Dream Act may fulfill dreams of some residents

October 2007
Dream Act may fulfill dreams of some residents

Almost 10 years after the idea of the DREAM Act was introduced to the immigrant community, Jyotika Modi* still waits for the chance to apply for a Green Card. "My parents brought me over when I was 10," she explains, "and I've lived in fear for the last 15 years that someone will come knocking at my door to throw me out of the U.S." Jyotika finished her schooling here, and has since obtained both Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Education. She hopes to one day teach special education to middle schoolers, but cannot apply for a state job until she has status. But she has renewed hope, based on new Congressional action on the DREAM Act and other pro-immigrant measures.

Three months after Congress failed to pass a broad immigration overhaul, lawmakers are returning to the hot-button issue, discussing narrower measures that address illegal immigrants and low-skilled laborers. In the House, Republicans had been introducing initiatives aimed at ensuring that illegal immigrants could not gain access to federal benefits. After the Senate failed in June to pass the broad immigration bill, rebuffing President Bush, who supported it, many on Capitol Hill predicted the issue would lie dormant until after the 2008 presidential election. But that has not been the case.

The Bush administration in August unveiled a roster of aggressive enforcement initiatives, provoking a legal challenge from labor and business groups and outrage from immigrant advocates. Immigrant groups nationwide have staged vigils and protests to demand changes in policy. Groups that want to limit immigration also have kept a sharp eye on Congress, on the lookout for any attempts to pass what they view as "amnesty"—proposals that would open the way to legalization for illegal immigrants.

Since the comprehensive bill's failure, some of the focus on immigration has served political goals. Republican senators quickly brought up an enforcement bill, a hit with their conservative base. The Democratic-sponsored measures generally appeal to Latino voters. Staff members from both parties say immigration-related amendments could turn up on any major piece of legislation expected to pass.

The central conflict that tripped up the comprehensive bill remains the question of whether illegal immigrants should be given the chance to earn legal status. That question will be an issue in at least two of the measures headed for the Senate.

The first to come up is the DREAM Act, a bill from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) that would give conditional legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age. To qualify under it, they must have been in the country for at least five years, have a high school diploma and meet other requirements. Over the next six years, they would have to spend two years in college or the military, after which they could become permanent residents. The bill has broad support.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has championed an AgJobs program with increasing intensity as farms have struggled to find labor. The program would allow up to 1.5 million agricultural workers to gain legal status through a "blue card," provided they did farm work for a certain number of days every year. Those who met the criteria could apply for legal permanent resident status after five years. Republicans oppose any path to citizenship, and some have indicated they would support a version of AgJobs that would limit workers to short-term stays in the U.S. and not provide any kind of longer-term legal status.

Senate Republicans are also discussing ways to increase the number of H1B visas for high-skilled workers, now capped at 65,000 a year. The H1 is a particularly hot-button issue with the South Asian community, given that a large number of IT workers come to this country on that visa.

*Name Changed

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