ORONO, Maine — The Student Senate at the University of Maine unanimously passed a resolution urging Maine’s congressional delegation to support a measure supporters have said would provide a path to citizenship through higher education.
Student Sens. Ben Goodman, 21, of Kennebunk, Jose Roman, 21, of Portland and Pete Christopher 22, of Winthrop, Mass., held a press conference Thursday to announce the passage of the resolution two days earlier.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors — or DREAM — Act would provide a path to citizenship for aliens ages 12 to 35 who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16, according to information provided by Goodman. The law, if passed, would apply only to those who have resided in the U.S. for at least five consecutive years, have graduated from high school or obtained a graduate equivalency degree, a GED.
Those who meet the criteria would be eligible to obtain conditional residency status for two years of military service or after completing a two-year degree program or two years of a four-year degree program, said Roman, a legal immigrant from the Dominican Republic, who is now a citizen.
“I personally know of people in the Hispanic community in Portland who would benefit from the passage of this bill,” Roman said Thursday. “Someone I went to high school with came here at 14 piled in the back of a truck where he and others were stacked up like logs. When he first came here, his family lived in a tent outside of Falmouth.
“This bill would make a big difference in his life and allow people like him to become fully functional members of society,” he said. “Once they become legal resident aliens, they pay taxes, buy property and eventually become citizens and vote.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District is a co-sponsor of the bill and recently was one 81 members of Congress who urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring it to a vote before the end of the year, when Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives.
“I proudly support this legislation because it is the right thing to do,” she Thursday in an e-mail. “It is just cruel to deport people who had no say in coming to the United States, have spent most of their lives in our communities, and have few or no ties to countries they’ve never known.
“What a waste that would be — of money spent on their education here, of taxes they will pay, and of talent. Especially in Maine, a state so concerned with losing its youth, why would we turn those away who want to use their talent to serve our communities and our country? Wherever they were brought from, our communities see them as their children. The right thing to do is to give them an avenue to finally become formal citizens.”
Ed Gilman, spokesman for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District, said Thursday in an e-mail that the “congressman is generally supportive of the principles being considered in the bill.” He said Michaud would not decide how he would vote on the measure until the details around issues such as whether illegal aliens living in Maine would pay in-state or out-of-state tuition.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, recognizes the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and she agrees the DREAM Act raises important issues that need to be addressed, her spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said Thursday in an e-mail.
But with limited time left on the Senate’s legislative calendar, she has said the immediate priorities are providing funding for essential federal programs that now are on stopgap budgets, passing a defense authorization bill, and extending the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire Jan. 1, according to Kelley.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, expressed similar sentiments.
“The senator is intent on averting a government shutdown and avoiding job-killing tax increases that will occur Jan. 1 unless the U.S. Senate acts,” John Gentzel said in an e-mail. “These should be our primary concerns in the remaining days of this session.”
Goodman, Roman and Christopher acknowledged at Thursday’s press conference that chances of the bill passing before the end of the year are slim, but all three said the need for the law is real.