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Reid, Democrats reintroduce DREAM Act

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Wednesday reintroduced the DREAM Act, a bill that would set a path to citizenship for people who were brought into the country illegally as youngsters if they join the military or complete two years of college.

The legislation faces a tough course to passage. Republicans blocked a similar bill in the Senate in December after charging it amounted to “amnesty.”

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said he did not know when the new version might be brought up for votes.

But he said he would be looking to persuade a handful of GOP senators to drop their opposition, and he was not going to “draw any lines in the sand.”

The DREAM Act was introduced by Reid and other Democratic leaders in the Senate. A companion bill was submitted later in the House. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she planned to co-sponsor it.

The pro-immigration bill might become one of the issues dividing Berkley and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., as they compete for the U.S. Senate in the 2012 election.

Berkley voted for the measure last year, and Heller — then a House member — voted against it.

Heller still has reservations about expanding immigration when he thinks more should be done to secure the U.S.-Mexico border against illegal entrants, spokesman Stewart Bybee said.

Whether the bill passes or not, the new effort enables Democrats to reassert their allegiance on an issue important to Hispanics, a key constituency they are seeking to re-energize for the 2012 elections.

Democrats reintroduced the bill a day after President Barack Obama was in Texas to rally support for immigration measures.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Reid echoed a point made by Obama: The government has taken steps to strengthen the U.S. border with Mexico, so now it would be appropriate to address other immigration measures.

“Last summer we provided more than $600 million for border security, drones, fences, more border security,” Reid said. “Maybe there is more we can do, but we have done a lot.”

Heller, who took Senate office this week after being appointed to replace Sen. John Ensign, had another view.

“The fact remains that our government still does not enforce the laws that are currently on the books,” Bybee said. “As long as Border Patrol agents continue to risk their lives against drug smugglers, the argument that appropriate action has been taken to secure our borders is questionable.”

The DREAM Act would create a path to legal status and citizenship for people who entered the country before they were 16 years old, have been residents at least five years and are of “good moral character.”

Applicants, who would qualify up to age 30, would have to graduate from high school or obtain a GED diploma, and attend college for two years or serve in the military for at least two years.

The DREAM Act “makes economic sense,” Reid said. “Instead of kicking out people who are educated or who want to be educated and productive members of our society, we should let them work. Maybe they will found the next Google.”

The DREAM acronym stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

Democrats portray their effort as a matter of fairness because many of the beneficiaries were brought to the country as infants or youngsters and have grown up knowing nothing other than the United States.

“This is not an open door or a free ride,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. “We already have made enormous investments in public education for these students.”

Republicans generally have opposed the measure with critics arguing it would encourage more people to enter the country illegally.

The Senate in December voted 55-41 for the bill, but it fell short of the 60 necessary to break a Republican filibuster.

Five Democrats voted against the bill, but Reid shrugged off a question on how he planned to bring those senators into the fold.

“We ask Republicans of good will to work with us,” Reid said. “I am someone who maintains the faith.”

In the House, which was controlled by Democrats last year, the DREAM Act passed 216-198. Reid suggested one possible path to compromise this year on the measure. The measure could be attached to a Republican bill requiring employers to use the electronic E-Verify system to determine the eligibility of workers.

In the meantime, the Nevadan and 21 other Democrats signed a letter last month urging Obama to defer deportation of students who would otherwise qualify to stay in the country if the DREAM Act were to become law.

Obama administration officials have deferred action on students on a case-by-case basis, as the Bush administration did.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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