September 01, 2011

ABA Supports DREAM Act

ABA President Stephen N. Zack expressed the association’s support last month for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), which would provide a path to legal residence and citizenship for certain young immigrants.

Zack submitted his statement on the bill, S. 952, for the record of a hearing held June 28 by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

He emphasized that the argument at the heart of the issue is that young people brought into the United States as children by family members, through no choice of their own, should be allowed to stay. Zack related their plight to his own personal story of fleeing to America from Cuba as a young teen.

“But for a twist of fate,” he said, “their story would be my story. These young people deserve the same chance to pursue the American dream and this legislation will enable them to do so.”

Those eligible under the legislation include undocumented youths who entered the United States on or before the age of 15, are 35 years or younger on the date the bill is enacted, and enroll in college or join the military. Conditional legal status would be granted only to applicants who successfully complete a criminal background check, demonstrate good moral character, and complete two years of college or military service. After six years, applicants would be eligible for lawful permanent resident status if they have maintained good behavior and are able to meet additional criteria.

In his statement, Zack underscored that “earn is the key word in this case,” and that, contrary to criticism from the bill’s opponents, “the DREAM Act would not automatically grant legal status to anyone.”

The June 28 hearing included testimony from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley, who emphasized the positive effects the bill’s passage would have on their respective agencies and its overall benefits to the nation’s economy and national security.

In her testimony, Napolitano stated that her major reason for urging Congress to pass the DREAM Act is “to allow the department to devote a greater portion of limited DHS resources to removing individuals who actually pose a risk to public safety or security.”

The ABA has strongly supported passage of the DREAM Act since 2006 and continues to support comprehensive immigration reform that realistically and humanely addresses the undocumented population, enhances border security and preserves traditions of fairness and due process for everyone in the United States.

Various versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced and considered in Congress over the past 10 years, but none have passed. The Obama administration strongly supports passage of the bill as a key component of its overall national security and immigration reform agenda. The administration has also stressed a number of spill-over benefits that would emerge with passage of the legislation, including a strengthening of the military’s recruitment and readiness efforts and an improvement in the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy that would accompany a higher proportion of the population pursuing higher education.

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