SENATE PANEL APPROVES BILL ON ILLEGALS
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
October 24, 2003
By Stephen Dinan
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill yesterday allowing illegal
immigrant students to gain legal status and to pay in-state tuition rates at
state colleges and universities.
Called the Dream Act, the bill would restore states' ability to offer
in-state tuition. It would allow a six-year grace period for illegal immigrants
who grew up in the United States and graduated from a U.S. high school, during
which they would be exempt from deportation. If they finished two years of
college or served two years in the military during that time, they could earn
permanent legal residence in the United States
But lawmakers removed provisions that would have allowed immediate
permanent residence for those age 30 or younger who had already completed the
Backers said the legislation recognizes that students are "innocent
children" who find themselves living here illegally because of a decision their
parents made. They said the bill recognizes the value these immigrants have for
society and their potential.
"These people work hard, they contribute to our economy, they try to build
their own families," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who
sponsored the bill along with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman
of the committee.
The bill undoes parts of the 1996 immigration reform. As part of that law,
Congress decided states should not be allowed to offer in-state tuition to
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said Congress should not retreat on
"This is a significant involvement in immigration law. It's a statement
that we give up on existing law," Mr. Sessions said. "All we've done is further
weaken the morality and integrity of the system."
The bill passed 16-3, with opposition coming from Republican Sens. Lindsey
Graham of South Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mr. Sessions.
Nobody has a reliable estimate of how many students would be affected by
the bill or how much it would cost taxpayers.
In 2001, the Urban Institute estimated 64,000 students would take advantage
of the lower tuition rates, but this year it lowered the estimate to between
7,000 and 13,000 students, Mr. Durbin said.
The legislation has become the latest rallying point for activists hoping
to ease some restrictions on illegal immigrants. Yesterday's action was praised
by Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, who missed the vote in committee
but whose presidential campaign issued a news release lauding the move.
Since the September 11 attacks, Congress has been reluctant to pass
legislation loosening immigration laws or helping illegal aliens. The House did
pass a mini-amnesty bill in March 2002, but it was blocked in the Senate by Sen.
Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a version of the Dream
Act, but that bill was also blocked by several senators.
This year, with just a few weeks left in the legislative session, it is
unlikely the bill will move. The difficulty of crafting an immigration bill
became clear in yesterday's committee meeting, with some senators who wanted to
support the bill saying the initial version had gone too far.
"I seriously think some people here today have forgotten the original
intent of the Dream Act," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. "I was
sold on this bill for one reason: education, education, education. I feel
somewhat cheated by the overreach of the legislation."
Mr. Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, offered an
amendment to rein in some of those excesses, which passed 18-1.
Their amendment removed language that would have allowed those under 30 who
have already completed the school or military-service requirements to apply for
immediate permanent status. It also said students covered under the act are
ineligible for federal Pell Grants and said students will be tracked by the same
system that monitors other legal immigrants here on student visas.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said it was critical to make sure illegal
immigrants weren't receiving more benefits than legal immigrants under the bill.
"I don't want to send a signal that the illegal choice carried an advantage
over the legal choice," Mr. Kyl said.
He offered an amendment, defeated on voice vote, that would have forced any
state that allows illegal immigrants in-state tuition to offer the same rates to
any legal resident of the United States.