House approves DREAM Act

Utah delegates vote no; undocumented students say bill gives them hope

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 8 2010 10:00 p.m. MST

Diego Ibanez leads the Salt Lake Dreamers as they gather in front of EnergySolutions Arena on Wednesday night before the Jazz game to promote the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented immigrants a chance at residency through higher education or military service.

Lennie Mahler, Deseret News

While her classmates were applying for scholarships, investigating colleges and looking into career options her junior year of high school, Sarai Frost was confronting a painful reality.

"I had dreams for my life," she recalled, brown eyes filling with tears. "I wanted to be a lawyer." But as an undocumented immigrant, her future wasn't bright. Though she could attend college, without a Social Security number, getting a job after graduation was out of the question.

Undocumented immigrants may now have reason to hope.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act passed in the House 216-198 late Wednesday night. The bill, which has been tossed around Congress since 2001, would grant legal residency to undocumented college students and members of the armed forces.

"I want to be excited, but at the same time I'm trying not to be," said Frost, now a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom. The DREAM Act must still go before the Senate. A vote is scheduled for Thursday morning but it is unlikely to occur because of ongoing Republican filibuster tactics.

All Utah House representatives voted against the bill, including Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson who called the DREAM Act a "piecemeal" approach to the immigration problem. Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz voted no purely on principle ("It's amnesty, and I pledged not to support amnesty"), and Rep. Rob Bishop at least partially because of dissatisfaction with the DREAM Act's legislative process.

"This is a discussion Congress needs to have, and there could be a positive result," said Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for Bishop. "But to try to ram this bill through the House in a lame-duck session using procedural rules to prevent debate or improvements does a complete disservice to taxpayers and to those who would be affected by these new policies."

If passed, the act could put an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants in the United States on the path to citizenship, according to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. In Utah, about 23,000 youths and young adults stand to benefit.

Aside from opening a path to legal status for the children of illegal immigrants, though, some argue that, in Utah, the act will have little effect. Utah is one of 11 states that offers illegal immigrants in-state tuition — a practice that, if the bill passes, will go national. If anything, they argue that the act will boost the state's economy. Others worry, however, that, with a green card on the table, illegal immigrants will flood Utah's already overcrowded colleges, costing taxpayers millions.

"This policy will absolutely boost the economy," said Juan Manual Ruiz, president of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce. He, along with a group of college students stopped by Matheson's office Tuesday to drop off a symbolic check made out to "The American People" and ask for a "yes" vote.

According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, the House version of the DREAM Act would reduce federal deficits by about $2.2 billion over the next 10 years. The Senate's version would reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion.

"When someone has a college education, they are going to make more money," said Wendy Sefsaf, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center. "When they have more money, they spend more money. The more people shopping in Utah the better."

Beyond salaries, college graduates tend to enjoy better health and contribute more to society. Sefsaf said the act is also likely to boost Hispanic graduation rates.

"It's hard to stay in school when you have no hope," Frost said. Though she graduated and attended a few years of college, two of her brothers dropped out. "So many students don't reach their full potential because they know they're never going to do better than a janitorial or fast-food job."

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