Revised immigration act to offer legal status for graduates

WASHINGTON — A pared-down immigration bill that would give as many as 2.1 million undocumented immigrants under 35 a shot at higher education and legal status is receiving renewed interest because of the short time frame before the November midterm elections.

The DREAM Act — or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors legislation — would give undocumented young people the chance to earn permanent residency and eventually citizenship if they graduate from U.S. high schools, have been in the country at least five years continuously and meet educational or military service stipulations. The bill was first introduced in Congress in 2004.

President Obama gave a speech last week intended to jump-start comprehensive immigration legislation, but some advocates think a piecemeal approach might be more successful.

According to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute, California ranks first in the nation with an estimated 553,000 potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, or 26 percent of the total. Texas is second with 258,000 estimated eligible under the bill, Florida is third with 192,000, followed by New York, with 146,000, and Arizona, with 114,000.

Critics say the legislation, which is pending in the Senate, would open the door to amnesty, but a report by the Migration Policy Institute estimates that only 825,000 of the 2.1 million potential beneficiaries might actually participate.

DREAM bill sponsor Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is open to making it part of an overall package, aides said, or moving it separately. It last failed to pass the Senate in 2007.

"We should not punish children for their parents' mistakes," Durbin said. "That is not the American way. The DREAM Act says to these kids: 'America will give you a chance. We will give you the opportunity to earn your way to legal status if you work hard and play by the rules.' "