The Obama administration has trotted out a parade of top officials to push the long-shot DREAM Act in recent days, even as tax, spending and defense issues dominate the lame duck session.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan this week said the immigration bill would enable thousands of young, undocumented immigrants go on to college, while Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano argued it would help her agency enforce immigration laws.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said the DREAM Act would boost military recruitment since the legislation would provide a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military for two years.
And on Friday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made the case the DREAM Act makes good economic sense. He said 65,000 students graduate from publicly funded schools each year but can’t go to college or get good jobs because of their illegal status.
“The American taxpayer has invested in them, and unless we pass the DREAM Act we will keep throwing away this hard-earned investment,” Locke told reporters on a conference call. Also, a quarter of start-up companies that eventually went public in the past 15 years were started by immigrants, he said, meaning some of these students could “develop the next Google or Intel.”
The latest push comes as Hispanic groups and immigration advocates step up pressure on the White House and Congress to pass the long-stalled immigration bill before Republicans take over the House and gain more power in the Senate next month. Democrats are listening, given that Hispanics were credited with helping Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fend off a tough election challenge last month and will be crucial to Obama keeping the White House in 2012.
“We have a team at the White House working on this every day. The president himself is engaged,” said Cecelia Munoz, the White House’s intergovernmental affairs director and a longtime immigration advocate. “We are going stay absolutely engaged in this as we wait for congressional action.”
The House is expected to consider the measure next week, though chances of Senate passage remain slim.
All 42 Senate Republicans pledged this week to filibuster any legislation before the chamber deals with expiring Bush-era tax cuts and funding the government. With time running out in the lame-duck session, Senate Democrats also want to ratify the START nuclear-arms treaty and pass a massive defense bill that includes a repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members.
And even though new versions of the bill aim to address critics concerns and build broader support, it doesn’t appear that Reid has secured the 60 votes needed to move the DREAM Act forward.
Opponents say the bill would provide amnesty for lawbreakers and lead to more illegal immigration. On top of that, the measure is filled with loopholes, said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
“All they have to do is really just attend college for two years. They do not have to have a degree. Only a sliver of those will use the military. Ninety percent plus would use the college type and degree program to gain this amnesty,” Sessions said during an appearance on Fox News Thursday night. “It’s just not the right policy. It would in fact be just the opposite of what message we should be sending, which is that we’re going to end the lawlessness at the border and create a lawful system of immigration and stop rewarding illegal immigration.”