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DREAM Act rewards illegal immigration

By Jeff Sessions, Special to CNN
  • Jeff Sessions: Even after voters demanded change, Democrats want a vote on DREAM Act
  • He says bill is amnesty for illegal immigrants' children who go to college or serve in military
  • He says bill would give federal aid for college to illegal immigrants seeking legal status
  • Sessions: It would send message that U.S. is not serious about integrity of our laws

Editor's note: Sen. Jeff Sessions is a Republican from Alabama and the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(CNN) -- On Election Day, the American people rejected reckless spending, runaway debt and the record growth of government. They also rejected years of establishment arrogance -- found in both parties -- that for too long has ignored their will.

But before the new wave of GOP lawmakers take their seats, Democratic leaders are determined to push even their most unpopular policies right up to the last minute.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are planning to hold a vote Wednesday on the highly controversial Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, a measure that would give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, including those with criminal records.

I served in the Senate during the heated immigration debate of 2006 and 2007 when Americans' overwhelming opposition to amnesty deluged Congress with letters and shut down the Capitol switchboard. Their message was clear: Don't incentivize the lawlessness -- stop it.

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But rather than heed the public will, Democratic leaders in Congress are moving in the opposite direction. As many citizens plead for our immigration laws to be enforced, the DREAM Act would reward and encourage their violation. Here are some of its most troubling features:

• The DREAM Act is not limited to children. Illegal immigrants under 30 who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 are eligible for legal status that amounts to amnesty on the date of enactment. (Those illegal immigrants' data could prove hard to verify and be subject to fraud.) And they remain eligible to apply at any future age, as the registration window does not close.

Neither a high school diploma nor a college degree is required; as a condition for permanent legal status, what is needed is a GED certificate and then two years of additional schooling.

• The DREAM Act would also afford some federal education benefits to illegal immigrants, including federally backed student loans and work study programs. Thus, Americans struggling to pay for their kids' college in the midst of a recession are being asked to help subsidize benefits for the college education of those who are not even supposed to be in the country.

• The DREAM Act either bars or hinders the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from removing "any alien who has a pending application for conditional status," even, potentially, if that individual has been convicted of a serious crime. It is difficult to estimate the damage to effective immigration enforcement that will be caused by such a provision.

• Making matters worse, the bill allows illegal immigrants with fewer than three misdemeanor convictions to remain eligible for legal, permanent status, meaning amnesty is open to those who have, for example, joined gangs, been convicted of driving under the influence, engaged in fraud or even made false claims to immigration authorities.

• Those who receive amnesty under the DREAM Act would also be able to obtain legal status and eventual citizenship for their relatives (subject to immigration law) -- something reserved for lawful immigrants -- even if those relatives have themselves entered the country illegally or are the ones who brought them here.

Because the DREAM Act does not expire, or impose any numerical cap, the scope of the bill's amnesty program could be enormous. And by rewarding illegality, the legislation will incentivize even more of it -- and send the message that future illegal immigrants will be rewarded with amnesty as well.

When voters went to the polls on November 2, they didn't only choose a new path. They also wrote Congress specific directions. On the matter of illegal immigration, those directions have been clear for some time: Enforce the laws on our books, complete the border fence and protect American jobs by holding employers accountable. If those efforts are successful, we can then begin a national conversation about what to do with those Illegal immigrants who have been here for an extended time.

Instead, Democratic leaders are making a brazen push for mass amnesty. They are again defying the public will and sending the world a message that our nation is not serious about the integrity of our borders or our laws.

American citizenship is the envy of the world. But central to our nation's greatness is our respect for the rule of law. By eroding that respect through reckless and irresponsible amnesty, we would do a disservice not only to the 300 million Americans who call this nation home, but to all those who are lawfully applying and waiting for their chance to be citizens.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Sessions.