WASHINGTON - Hundreds of activists and supporters flooded the first-ever Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act held this week by Sen. Dick Durbin, D. Ill.
The DREAM Act would allow undocumented youth who were brought to the United States before the age of 15 to obtain "conditional nonimmigrant status," provided that they complete high school or receive their GED, then either serve in the military or enroll in college for two years. Additionally, conditional nonimmigrants must be "of good moral character," having not committed certain crimes, and having paid their taxes. After 10 years of conditional status, they would be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency.
The hearing featured a number of witnesses from the Obama administration, including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who both testified in support of the DREAM Act. Napolitano particularly emphasized how passing the DREAM Act would positively affect the nation’s security.
"Passage of the DREAM Act would allow us to focus even more attention on true security threats," Napolitano said. "This is a major reason I urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act: to allow the Department [of Homeland Security] to devote a greater portion of limited DHS resources to removing individuals who actually pose a risk to public safety or security."
After the DREAM Act was defeated in the Senate last year through a procedural delaying tactic, immigration advocates and civil rights groups have continued to push for its passage. Many DREAM Act-eligible students, called “dreamers,” have been particularly vigilant in their advocacy in support of the bill.
One such dreamer, Ola Kaso, testified at the hearing about growing up in the United States. She and her family legally emigrated from Albania when she was four years old. Kaso’s mother worked countless hours to support her children through college, and made sure to teach them that "nothing will be handed to you" and that "everything you hope to acquire, you must earn."
Kaso took her mother's advice to heart, excelling in school and giving back to her community. Her family had "followed the law every step of the way," but two weeks before graduating high school, she was told she would be deported. Kaso's community rallied around her and The Department of Homeland Security granted her one year of deferred action.
"I was brought to this country when I was 4 years old. I grew up here. I am American in my heart," said Kaso. "There are thousands of other dreamers just like me. All we are asking for is a chance to contribute to the country we love."