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Supporters of immigration reform proposal head to Washington

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Students lobby to become citizens
  • Proposed law would allow some young illegal immigrants to become permanent residents
  • Supporters are planning a rally in Washington this week
  • Lawmaker says it gives illegal immigrants a chance to earn legal status
  • Critics say it's a slippery slope and call it an "amnesty plan"

(CNN) -- Supporters of a proposed law that would give young illegal immigrants an opportunity to become citizens are planning to begin several days of lobbying Monday in the nation's capital.

"In out heart and minds, we feel that we're Americans," said Matias Ramos, 24, an illegal immigrant who is among activists from across the country gathering in Washington this week to put their faces on the fierce debate over immigration reform.

Ramos said he supports the DREAM Act, which offers illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 the chance to become lawful permanent U.S. residents if they meet certain conditions, including graduating from an American high school, having lived in the U.S. for at least five years and attending college or joining the military.

Permanent U.S. residents can apply for citizenship.

"Now is the time, because we are heading into the summer where there is a lot of action on immigration. We are seeing a debate about immigration that, really, it is all about gangs and it's all about criminals, and we got to show the other side."

With little chance Congress will act on comprehensive immigration reform this year, some lawmakers are pushing this pared-down measure targeting young illegal immigrants.

"We should not punish children for their parents' mistakes. That is not the American way. The DREAM Act says to these kids: America will give you a chance. We will give you the opportunity to earn your way to legal status if you work hard and play by the rules," said Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, in a statement after proposing the legislation last year.

But critics of the measure say it's a slippery slope.

"The so-called DREAM Act is an amnesty plan disguised as an educational initiative. And, like all amnesties, it simply rewards illegal behavior and encourages more," said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates stopping illegal immigration and reducing overall immigration to the U.S.

The measure, formally known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, was introduced by legislators from both sides of the aisle last year, but has not yet come up for a vote. Similar proposals have failed to garner enough support in the past.

The non-partisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that while 2 million people would be eligible under this legislation, more than 60 percent -- nearly 1.3 million -- would not obtain legal status because of financial limitations, competing work and family time demands, low educational attainment and limited English proficiency.

CNN's Kate Bolduan and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.