As we move closer to the 2012 presidential election, immigration reform is once again becoming a hot topic. President Obama renewed his endorsement of the DREAM Act last week while speaking at a commencement ceremony at Florida’s Miami Dade College, which graduates more Hispanic students than any other U.S. college.
The DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, was introduced nearly a decade ago and has undergone several changes over the years. The legislation is designed to grant legal status to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. To qualify under the latest version of the bill, an illegal immigrant must:
• Have arrived in the U.S. before age 16
• Have resided in the U.S. for five consecutive years since arriving
• If male, have registered with the Selective Service.
• Have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED or been admitted to an institution of higher education
During the first six years, qualifying illegal immigrants would have to either finish two years of college or serve two years in the U.S. military to be granted conditional legal status in the United States.
"The DREAM Act is designed to provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who, as children, moved here illegally and had no choice in the matter," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV.
The issue has long been a political flashpoint. The bill has been supported by key Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill over the years, but recently some Republicans who had supported the legislation, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, have withdrawn their support because it does not include any type of immigration enforcement.
"Many Members of Congress favor a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and are leery of the consequences of efforts that are only partial solutions," adds Sweet.
Still, President Obama continues to publicly support the DREAM Act, particularly in Florida, where the Hispanic vote could make the difference in a crucial swing state the president won in 2008.
A couple of states have taken the matter into their own hands. Last July, California passed its own version of the DREAM Act, which gives illegal immigrant students access to private college scholarships for state schools. In August 2011, the state of Illinois authorized a privately-funded scholarship plan for children of legal and illegal immigrants.