During his re-election campaign earlier this year, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter released a controversial ad targeting Democratic opponent Charlie Melancon's "record of voting to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get taxpayer-funded benefits and welfare." Vitter added he believes "in a legal immigration process for those who want to pursue the American dream."
That dream, however, does not include the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Minors) Act, which would allow immigrants under 30 to apply for green cards, provided they arrived in the U.S. before age 16, have lived in the U.S. for more than five years and earned a high school diploma or general education development (GED) certificate. Permanent residency is granted after at least two years of college or military service.
Last week, bill supporters stood outside New Orleans City Hall to urge Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to vote "yes." Landrieu has supported earlier versions of the bill, though it faces strong opposition in the Senate, where Vitter moved to strike it down before a vote Dec. 9. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week he still plans to introduce the House version, which passed earlier this month. In response to Reid's proposition, Vitter wrote on his Twitter account, "We can't let down our guard."
On Dec. 9, Vitter — who founded and chairs the Senate Border Security Caucus — called the DREAM Act an "illegal alien student bailout" and added, "The last thing legal taxpaying American citizens need is to see their hard-earned money used to finance the education of illegal aliens." He also said students vying for "slots in public universities" would be put in "direct competition for those scarce resources" and that the act would increase deficit spending.
Under the bill, students wouldn't be eligible for federal assistance such as Pell and Opportunity grants. Aside from the college or university's own scholarship opportunities, students can obtain student loans or participate in counseling and mentoring or federal work-study programs, which provide financial aid in exchange for part-time employment. In 2010, more than $1.17 billion in aid was made available to more than 700,000 participants, each earning an average of $1,724 toward tuition fees. The Congressional Budget Office also claims the act would add $1.7 billion in revenue. — Alex Woodward