Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brooklynite Cesar Vargas is a Case Study in Why We Need the DREAM Act to Pass

Posted By on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 3:16 PM

dream act
Long-time Brooklynite Cesar Vargas joined hundreds of protesters in Washington on Tuesday to lobby for Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

As the Times highlights, Vargas’s life story is a compelling case for permanent residency, if not US citizenship: he's lived here since he moved to New York from Mexico with his parents at age five; he graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, the alma mater of Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernard Sanders (I-VT); he is now a third-year law student at CUNY; and his dream is to serve the US as a military lawyer.

“I’m asking Congress to give us the opportunity to serve the only country we know, the only country we call home,” Vargas declared at a news conference with DREAM Act sponsor Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).

Durbin’s bill is designed to help young immigrants gain access to the benefits of legal US residency. While not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform and amnesty, it would give upstanding illegal residents like Vargas a six-year permanent residency in the US, allowing them to qualify for student loans and to serve in the US armed forces.

The bar to qualify for DREAM Act relief is high. Immigrants must be between 12 and 35 years old; have moved here before age 16 and lived here for five consecutive years; have obtained a high school diploma or GED; have a clean criminal record and be of “good moral character” (whatever that means).

Unfortunately, Vargas’s and others’ protests and broad Democratic support weren’t enough to save the act from legislative purgatory: the Senate voted 53-46 on Tuesday to table the Department of Defense amendment to which the DREAM Act was attached.

After the disappointing news from the Senate, the New York City Council convened yesterday to pass a resolution supporting the DREAM Act. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was one of those who testified in favor of the bill. “Each year, approximately 75,000 hard-working immigrant students graduate from high school across the country but are unable to access post-secondary education, obtain federal financial assistance or secure work because of their status,” the Epoch Times quoted.

And on the off chance the act can make it through Congress (perhaps as an independent bill), it’s pretty much guaranteed to have executive approval. President Obama expressed his support for the DREAM Act in a meeting with Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and US Representatives Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) and Luis Guttierez (D-IL) earlier this week.

“The president noted that it is time to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, especially when those youth grew up in America and want to serve their country in the military or pursue a higher education they have earned through academic excellence,” said a White House statement.

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