DREAM Act passes House; faces uphill battle in the Senate

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Supporters of the DREAM Act protest in Chicago.

I first reported on undocumented high school students 10 years ago.

And these youth, some of them now in their late 20s, may finally have a chance at the American Dream.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act Wednesday night 216 to 198.

This legislation would create a pathway to legalization for undocumented youth who complete two years of college or military service.

Their struggle isn't over yet. On Thursday, the Senate will vote and it will be a close one.

Many House Republicans were upset the Democrats tried to push this through in a lame duck Congress. In a way, they are right.

There's no chance it would've passed when Republicans take control of the House in January.

Democrats should have pushed harder sooner. They should have worked on this during President Obama's first year in office and helped him meet his campaign promises.

Let's just look at the economic argument to support the DREAM Act. Republicans should support these facts.

A study by the Congressional Budget Office estimated the House version of the DREAM Act could reduce deficits by $2.2 billion and increase revenues by $1.7 billion by 2020. The Senate version would reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion and increase revenue by $2.3 billion over the 2011-2020 period.

Another study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center estimates  the total earnings of DREAM Act beneficiaries over the course of their working lives range from would be between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion.

Expect the debate in the Senate to mirror what happened in the House.

House leader Nancy Pelosi equated the issue with our Founding Fathers.

"It's about equality. It's about opportunity. It's about the future," Pelosi said.

Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a longtime champion of immigrant rights, defended these youth educated in our schools who are culturally American. Some of them don't even speak Spanish or the language of their native countries.

"They are American in every thing but a piece of paper," Gutierrez said.

Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, reacted angrily to Republicans who called the undocumented youth lawbreakers. They were brought here by their parents when they were children.

"These are young people who broke no law," Hoyer said.

New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat, said DREAM Act youth grew up loving this country.

"Those children are as much American as each and every one of us," he said.

Republicans called it an amnesty and argued that lawbreakers should not be rewarded.

Illinois Rep. Timothy Johnson, a Republican, voted against the DREAM Act. He said the undocumented youth are not "innocents."

Republicans called it a "nightmare" act saying it's a backdoor amnesty.

There have been several versions of the legislation. The basics are that it would cover youth who came to the country before they were 16 years old, have lived here for five years and have no criminal records.

If they attend college or serve in the military for two years, the youth would have a pathway to legalization. An earlier version of the bill would grant them permanent residency but a later version would grant them conditional status for up to 10 years. It still could take up to 13 years for them to become U.S. citizens.

So the Republican argument that it would create instant chain migration for the families of the youth is false.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a champion on the DREAM Act, also made changes to the Senate bill to attract more votes, lowering the maximum age for eligibility to 29 from 35.

It is estimated that one to two million people who came here as youth could qualify for legalization under the DREAM Act.

It's time to let these young people become equal members of our society.

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