The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last week that would give thousands of undocumented immigrant youths a chance to gain legal residency and attend college in the United States.
The bill, whose prime sponsor is Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican from Utah and the chairman of the committee, passed 16-3 on Oct. 23.
Called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2003, or the DREAM Act, the legislation would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain temporary U.S. residency cards if they met certain conditions.
To be eligible, the young people must have moved to the United States before they turned 16 and lived here for five years, be of good moral character, and have earned a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential. A similar bill is pending in the House.
Under the Senate bill, after six years, if the immigrants could meet one of several other conditions—including having attended college for two years in good standing, or served in the military for two years—they could obtain legal permanent residency. The bill also would repeal a particular provision of federal immigration law to make it easier for state colleges and universities to charge undocumented students in-state tuition.
The bill, if it becomes law, would benefit an estimated 7,000 to 13,000 people, according to statistics from the Washington-based Urban Institute cited by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., at the committee session.
Several senators said they supported the intent of the bill to benefit a specific group of immigrants who have been brought to the United States at a young age, have done well in high school, and want to go to college here. But they debated how much they should offer the youths. One point of contention involved whether undocumented youths should be eligible for federal Pell Grants for low-income students.
Debate on Pell Grants
Sen. Durbin argued that if undocumented immigrants were going to attend college, they would need financial aid, and that should include Pell Grants.
“We’re saying to these students, ‘We’re not just going to dangle this opportunity before you,’” he said.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., argued for leaving Pell Grants out of the bill. “Let’s see what the need is,” she said. “I’m not sure I trust any study on this anymore. I’m not sure how many students are going to take advantage of a Pell Grant.”
The committee adopted an amendment that would permit undocumented students to get federal student loans and participate in work-study programs but would not authorize them to receive Pell Grants.
That amendment, offered by Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, would also require colleges and universities to register such students with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, a federal database that currently tracks only foreign students on campuses.