Specter and Sestak Support Immigrant Youth, Cosponsor the DREAM Act
[Cross-posted at Young Philly Politics]
Each year in the U.S., 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school with limited options for higher education or employment. Many undocumented youth were brought to this country as children, even infants, by their parents. They are indistinguishable in every way but one from their citizen friends, classmates, and siblings: they don't have a piece of paper that says they can stay here.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would change that. The Act would provide conditional legal status to applicants who:
provide certain undocumented immigrant students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, arrived in the US as children, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency. The students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, a qualified student must have "acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States," or have "served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge.".
A version of the Act was first introduced in 2001, and subsequent versions have been proposed since then, but the bill stalled during the acrimonious immigration debate of 2006-07. The Act was reintroduced earlier this year, and has garnered 105 co-sponsors in the House and 35 in the Senate. It has been endorsed by President Obama, Secretary of DHS Janet Napolitano, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, Microsoft, the College Board, the University of California system, and several newspaper editorial boards, including the New York Times. Against it are ... the same restrictionist organizations that oppose any immigration reform.
This spring, Temple University passed a resolution in support of the Act, largely through the efforts of Daniel Dunphy, President of the Temple College Democrats. The city of Philadelphia followed suit with a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. Students at the University of Pennsylvania are also getting involved.
While the Act has broad support among politicians, business, and academia, it has been put on hold to be bundled with a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Concerns about distracting the public from that primary goal have prevented some in Congress from cosponsoring the bill even though they otherwise might support it.
Until last month, only one member of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation had cosponsored the Act--Representative Chaka Fattah. Rep. Fattah had showed leadership and an understanding of the needs of some of his hardest-working but most neglected constituents, Dream Act-eligible students.
Then local Dream Act candidates, or "Dreamers," mobilized to increase Pennsylvania's legislative Dream caucus. They met with Senator Specter and traveled to D.C. to discuss the Dream Act with his staff. I and other advocates worked with local Dreamers to start a Pennsylvania chapter of the national group DreamActivist to bring Dreamers and allies together to promote the Act. These efforts began to bear fruit when Senator Specter agreed to cosponsor the Act last month.
We asked Representative Sestak if he would consider supporting the Act. He took another look at the bill and, to his great credit, cosponsored the Act earlier this month.
Now there are three legislative champions of immigrant youth in Pennsylvania! The more people know about the Act, the more likely they are to support it. If you would like to get involved to help increase Pennsylvania's legislative support for the Dream Act, please contact us to find out more. [email to: DreamActivistPA at gmail d0t com]