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Durbin praises administration's initial 'DREAM Act' steps

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 15, 2012 - WASHINGTON – For U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the decade-long dream of seeing parts of his DREAM Act put into effect Friday was “an historic humanitarian moment.”

Stopping short of offering a path to U.S. citizenship, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a new policy under which many undocumented residents under age 30 – who arrived in this country illegally before age 16, lived here for five years and have no criminal record – will be able to get work permits and be safe from deportation.

Durbin, who with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., had sent a letter to Napolitano in April 2010 asking for such action, has been the primary sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would in addition give such young “illegals” a path to permanent residency and citizenship if they serve in the military or attend college.

“Because the House has refused to consider the DREAM Act and a filibuster blocked it in the Senate, this presidential action was absolutely necessary to serve the cause of justice,” Durbin said in a statement Friday. A majority of senators, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., had voted for the DREAM Act in December 2010, but the tally fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.

“I’m hopeful that today’s announcement will encourage Congress to meet our responsibility to pass the DREAM Act, and show, through the force of law, that our country continues to be a nation of immigrants,” Durbin said.

Reaction to Friday’s announcement ranged from high praise from Latino organizations to sharp criticism from groups that want to slow the pace of illegal immigration. Among the congressional critics was U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who tweeted that the administrative action “avoids dealing with Congress and the American people instead of fixing a broken immigration system once and for all."

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Friday that he would “take a serious look at Secretary Napolitano's plan,” but refrained from further comment, other than saying: “All problems related to illegal immigration get easier to solve if we first fix the border.” McCaskill and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., were not immediately available for comment.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, disagreed with the new policy. He tweeted Friday that "the Obama Administration's announcement flies in the face of new citizens who go through the appropriate legal process."

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, a strong supporter of the DREAM Act, told the Beacon that the Obama administration's action Friday was "the right thing to do. It allows these young people to have a pathway to stay in this country. This is an opportunity to give people dignity, to allow them to be productive and allow them to further their education or their service to this country."

Clay said said he hoped the new policy would allow young DREAMers in the St. Louis region to emerge from "the shadows" of society, with no threat of deportation. He said he would push for the U.S. House to take up the DREAM Act, but doubts whether the GOP leadership would ever do so.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, criticized the new directive. "At a time when we should be working to secure our border and enforcing the immigration laws already on the books, the last thing the president should be doing is granting back-door amnesty to hundreds of thousands of people who are in this country illegally," Luetkemeyer said in a statement. "As a strong opponent of amnesty of any kind, I find it unconscionable that the president would seek to circumvent Congress for what he hopes will be political gain."

U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, said in a statement that he would be "calling on my colleagues in Congress to pass the DREAM Act through both the House and Senate, so President Obama can sign it."

Carnahan said such young people should be given an opportunity to succeed. "These are human beings who did not choose the country in which they were raised, but simply want the same opportunities as their peers in this country that they call home," Carnahan said. "We cannot afford to continue losing these men and women who embody the hard work, dedication, and American spirit we try to instill in all our children."

A spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, which represents Latino Americans, said the administration acted within its authority to order the change in deportation policy. “This is a legitimate use of the tools that the administration has to focus on their immigration enforcement resources," the spokeswoman said.

But Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform – which seeks tighter controls on illegal immigration – told CNN that the new policy is wrong and politically motivated. “They're going to throw 830,000 people into an already dismal work environment," he said.

That was a reference to the estimated number of undocumented young Americans who could, in theory, become eligible to apply for work permits under the new policy. Restrictions were placed on eligibility, including a high school diploma, no criminal record, and persons under 30 who either served in the military or studied in college.

“This action will give these young immigrants their chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they’ve ever called home,” Durbin said Friday. “These young people did not make the decision to come to this country, and it is not the American way to punish children for their parents’ actions.”

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