Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano made the case for the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform at the an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. One topic that Napolitano did not touch on during her speech is the plight of young undocumented immigrants — many who had little say when they were illegally brought to the country by their parents at a young age and have always considered the U.S. “home.”
Napolitano told ThinkProgress that the Department’s “hands are tied” and that the situation must be addressed through comprehensive immigration reform:
This illustrates again, why we need immigration reform. And the DREAM Act should be part of any bill that comes out of Congress. It is heartbreaking when you have a case of a young person who has been raised in this country, wants to go to college and can’t — or commits a minor crime and must be deported. And our hands our tried, we have very little discretion in those matters. So if we want to change that, we need to have the reform. And I think the members of Congress who are working on this all agree that some form of a DREAM Act-type provision would be an important inclusion.
The DREAM Act that Napolitano refers to is a piece of bipartisan legislation that has been repeatedly proposed in both the House and Senate that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants who entered the country more than five years ago while they were under the age of 16 and who complete two years of college or two years of military service. Currently, DHS deals with deportation petitions on a case-by-case basis and has deferred the final removal orders of many, but not all, young undocumented immigrants.
The College Board estimates that approximately 65,000 undocumented students who have lived in the U.S. for five years graduated from high school this past spring and now face overwhelming barriers to higher education and continued development. According to the College Board, the DREAM Act would provide an estimated 360,000 undocumented high school graduates with a “legal means to work and attend college,” and provide incentives for another 715,000 children between the ages of five and 17 to finish high school and pursue postsecondary education.