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2011 version of the Dream Act to get its first Senate hearing

Photo by CSU Stanislaus Photo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A new and slightly revised version of the federal Dream Act will get its first Senate hearing tomorrow morning, more than a month after Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and other top Senate Democrats announced plans to bring it back.

The new Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act differs only slightly from the one approved by the House last December, which moved to the Senate but failed to draw enough votes for cloture.

Like prior versions, the bill would grant conditional legal status to qualifying young people who are in the United States illegally but were brought here as minors under 16, so long as they attend college or join the military. There are only a few key differences from last year's version:

  • The age cap for applicants, which was reduced to age 29 last year, has been bumped back up to 35 years of age or younger

  • The length of conditional legal status before applicants may obtain permanent legal resident status has been reduced to six years, as in an earlier version, from 10 years

  • This version would, as did an earlier version (but not the House-approved one), seek to repeal a ban on in-state tuition rates for beneficiaries

To obtain permanent legal status, in addition to maintaining “good moral character” during the conditional period, beneficiaries would need to: a) have acquired a degree from an institute of higher learning, or at least completed two years in good standing toward a bachelor’s or higher degree; b) served at least two years in “uniformed services” and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge. More details can be found in a previous post.

The bill will heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security, according to Durbin's website. Among the witnesses will be Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, retired Lt. Colonel Margaret Stock and Steven Camarota, research director for the immigration-restriction think tank Center for Immigration Studies.

The hearing comes on the heels of the "coming out" of a prominent journalist as undocumented. Last week, ex-Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer winner Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in a New York Times essay that he has been here illegally since childhood. He said his confession was inspired by a burgeoning movement of undocumented youths who have been revealing their immigration status, hoping to put a face on those who would benefit from the Dream Act.