ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered his full support this afternoon for passage of the DREAM Act, pending legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who go to college or join the military.
“I want to be explicitly clear about where President Obama and I stand on this issue,” Duncan said on a conference call with reporters. “I believe it’s not only the right thing to do for these students, who want for themselves the same things that we all want for our own children, it’s also the right thing to do for our country. In this economy we need everyone trained and prepared for the jobs of the future.”
This morning Duncan sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressing his support for the legislation. The Senate is scheduled to vote this afternoon on whether to attach the measure to a defense authorization bill.
“Above all it will stop punishing innocent people for the accidental circumstances of their birth. Many came here to the U.S. as young children. America is the only country they know. They’ve done exactly what was asked of them in their schools and they deserve every opportunity to go further in life,” Duncan said.
The DREAM Act will give hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants a chance at citizenship provided they receive a college degree or complete at least two years of military service and are of “good moral character.” To qualify, an illegal immigrant must be younger than 36 years old and have arrived in the U.S. as a child.
The National Immigration Law Center has estimated that roughly 725,000 people would be eligible to take advantage of this provision.
Take for example Diana Rebollevo, an illegal immigrant who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was nine years old. When she graduated from high school she hoped to go to college, but without legal status she knew she could never afford it.
“I saw all my friends talking about the universities they wanted to go to,” she said on the conference call. “I couldn’t apply to the scholarships they were applying for or the schools they were applying to… I was undocumented and I couldn’t do that.” After taking time off to save money, Rebollevo enrolled in community college.
If the DREAM Act passes, states would apply in-state tuition rates to undocumented students like Rebollevo.