In a 68-32 victory, the U.S Senate issued a sweeping decision Thursday in favor of an immigration reform bill that may put undocumented immigrant students at schools such as Boston University on a quicker and easier path to citizenship.
Although there was a strong showing from both liberals and conservatives in favor of this bill, many are concerned about how the House of Representatives will react to this legislation, officials said.
“The House sees [this legislation] as amnesty to people who broke the law by coming into this country,” said BU sociology professor Natalicia Rocha-Tracy. “They [opponents] see it as a criminal act, and some are conservative enough to think that by passing this legislation, they are not supporting what America stands for. And, of course, it is just the opposite.”
Rocha-Tracy also said the new bill draws upon and expands certain provisions of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. under the age of 16 to apply for an accelerated path to citizenship through completion of a college degree or two years of military service.
She also said this new bill is a way to support “DREAMers” who want to contribute to society by pursuing and education and obtaining a job, which may result in increased numbers of immigrants applying to study at places of higher education.
Rocha-Tracy said members of Congress must now look at how the bill will affect the economy and the education growth the bill may inspire. Additionally, the assimilation and incorporation of immigrants into mainstream society must be considered.
If passed, this legislation will allow undocumented students to change their statuses with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum, Rocha-Tracy said. DACA was implemented in 2012 to defer action against undocumented minors and grant them with a temporary two-year work permit if they meet certain qualifications.
“Since DACA is not a law, there is no stability with it, and anyone can come and overturn it,” she said. “The DREAMers who didn’t qualify for DACA are counting on this new path for citizenship [to obtain certain rights], and the ones who did qualify are relying on this new legislation to make their two-year DACA work permit into a permanent residence.”
Currently, the bill states anyone who moves to the U.S. before the age of 16 can benefit from the new DREAM Act implications. However, Rocha-Tracy said many people fear the implementation of an “age cap,” which would restrict undocumented residents from benefits based on their age.
“Capping the age is basically penalizing the people who have been here long enough to become a part of the fabric of the United States,” she said. “[Implementing] a cap would be cruel and unusual punishment to those who only know life in the U.S.”
Rocha-Tracy said the immigration system is currently broken in the sense that no matter how long a person has been in the country and regardless of how much he or she has contributed to the society and economy, there is currently no way an undocumented resident to change his of her status.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the victory is a positive step for DREAMers and their families in a press release regarding the bill’s success on Capitol Hill.
“It is encouraging to see our country’s political leadership set aside partisanship and come together to do what’s in the best interest of the country,” Duncan said in the release. “If we are going to meet [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama’s goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020, we must support the education and growth of every student.”
Duncan said the U.S. government must uphold the country’s values and goals by making it easier for the world’s leading minds in science and math to stay in the country.
“We must also ensure that America remains a beacon for the most promising minds,” Duncan said. “Our country’s best and brightest include students and families of every culture and creed, who deserve a fair shot at success whether they were born in the United States or chosen it as their home.”