Senate Judiciary Committee Conducts First-Ever Hearing on DREAM Act

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The longstanding effort to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Men Minors (DREAM) Act took a significant and symbolic step forward late last month: Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Senate conducted the first-ever Senate hearing on the proposed law that would give the children of illegal immigrants a shot at legal status if they go to college or join the military.

However, to achieve enactment of the law, proponents must still clear what some say are unpractically high political hurdles, not the least of which is opposition among Republicans who think the DREAM Act would encourage more illegal immigration.

"This year, to kind of 'crystal ball' it is hard," says Wendy Feliz Sefsaf, a spokeswoman at the American Immigration Council, a D. C. -based organization that tracks immigration issues and advocates for immigrants.

"We've gotten close before, but it's also an election year," Sefsaf said, adding that she thinks "neither Republicans nor Democrats want to upset their constituencies, so they don't want to go and tackle tough problems." An attempt to pass the DREAM Act last year was thwarted by a Senate filibuster.

Daniel Griswold, director of the Herbert A Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a D.C. -based think tank, says the DREAM Act has even less of a chance of passing during this Congress than the last Congress, because Republican views toward immigration have hardened and they now control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Indeed, although the DREAM Act is backed by several higher education organizations, such as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and popular with the public (a 2010 Gallup Poll found that 54 percent of Americans would vote in favor of the law), Republican leaders say they are withholding support for the act because it doesn't address the need for immigration reform as a whole.

Proponents of the law tout the fact that its criteria are strict and that it screens out those not brought to the United States before the age of 15 or five years before the enactment of the law. They also insist that the measure does not apply to those who are not pursuing higher education or service in the military or who've been convicted of certain crimes and are unable to demonstrate "good moral character."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, testifying at last month's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, said DREAM Act-eligible students would benefit the country by paying taxes and filling jobs in STEM fields. …