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Debate over DREAM Act heats up as immigration-related bill awaits vote

By Jim Barnett, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The act would make immigrants eligible for citizenship if they go to college or join the military
  • Texas Republican says the bill could grant amnesty to 2 million
  • "The bill is also a magnet for fraud," he says

Washington (CNN) -- The future of the DREAM Act has become something of a nightmare for Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Congressional leaders and the Obama administration are fighting it out, and each is making the case for why the legislation should be passed or rejected during the lame-duck session of Congress. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would grant eligibility for citizenship for thousands of young illegal immigrants if they go to college or serve in the military.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday, "I urge the Congress to pass the DREAM Act and set aside old labels."

Speaking to reporters via a White House conference call, Napolitano said, "There are compelling reasons to support it. ... It will strengthen the military and strengthen the economy."

Napolitano urged Congress to act "and come together on a bipartisan basis and in the grand tradition of this country." She said the DREAM Act would help people who were "brought here by others ... not of their own volition ... but were brought here by parents or smuggled into the country by human traffickers."

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said there have been no hearings on the bill and lawmakers have not seen the text of the legislation. Even so, he said, House Democrats are considering bringing up the act on Friday.

In a written statement, Smith said the bill could grant amnesty to more than 2 million illegal immigrants. "Mass amnesty is not the only problem with the DREAM Act," he said. "The bill allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at public universities, placing them ahead of U.S. citizens. The bill also is a magnet for fraud."

Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, contended that "while the bill continues to be disguised as an educational initiative, it is simply another measure that offers a path to citizenship for illegals in this country." In a letter to the Congressional Budget Office, Vitter said, "It is imperative that members of Congress and the American people know the estimated cost of the DREAM Act before a single vote is cast on this legislation."

Napolitano told reporters an earlier version of the bill scored by the CBO estimated the cost as "basically neutral. The cost argument doesn't hold water."