Undocumented UCLA graduates gathered near the campus to have their own… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
WASHINGTON – Part-time college student Ray Jose arrived at Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s office this week with an overriding goal: To convince the West Virginia Democrat to back off his proposal to stiffen the educational requirements in the Dream Act section of the bipartisan immigration bill.
The Dream Act is among the more popular, and less contested, parts of the Senate immigration overhaul – a provision that would allow young people who were brought to the United States as minors to receive green cards more swiftly if they serve in the military or attend college.
Manchin, perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, is proposing an amendment to toughen the measure. He wants to prevent Dreamers, as the young immigrants call themselves, from access to the bill’s expedited five-year path to permanent legal status until they graduate from “any institution of higher learning,” according to a summary. Without graduating, they would be on the same 10-year path as most other immigrants.
U.S. immigration law: Decades of debate
“If you’re asking to accelerate the process, then you have to make a commitment and complete something,” Manchin said this week in a brief interview. To explain his support for the provision to his constituents in West Virginia, he said, it makes sense to require these prospective citizens to “have made an extra effort to become part of this great society of ours.”
Advocates for immigrants say the graduation requirement would create another hurdle for the young people. Because many work, they take longer to finish college. The graduation requirement would push them toward two-year institutions, forcing them to choose between gaining full legal status and pursuing their education.
Jose, 22, who came to the U.S. with his family on a tourist visa from the Philippines in 2000 and never left, brought these concerns to the senator’s staff.
“I told my story, and kind of explained that it would be an even bigger burden,” said Jose, who added that his parents have mowed lawns and cleaned houses while he worked to graduate from a community college in Maryland and transfer to a four-year university to earn a nursing degree.
He is not attending college this semester. Even though immigrants would qualify for provisional legal status as they begin the path to green cards, he said he wants to become a “full member of society.”
“Dreamers have always strived for higher education and a better future,” Jose said. “We know that without an education you can’t get far in life.”
PHOTOS: The debate over immigration reform
The amendment is expected to face resistance from liberal Democrats. The version of the Dream Act in the immigration overhaul is among the most far-reaching of past proposals, and provides a political balance to conservative provisions on border safety and guest workers. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, has long been the chief advocate to the path to citizenship for Dreamers.
Manchin, though, could gain support from Republicans and other conservative Democrats who want tougher provisions before they give their votes. The West Virginian said adding the measure wouldn’t guarantee his support for the bill, but “it would help tremendously.”
Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook