Last week, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744). After two weeks of floor debate, the legislation passed by a vote of 68 to 32, with fourteen Republicans joining all Senate Democrats in favor of the bill. The legislation includes a path to citizenship for DREAM Act students, new rules for student visas, and an increase in the number of H1-B visas for highly skilled workers.
NACUBO president John Walda joined the presidents of eight other higher education associations in supporting the version of the DREAM Act included in the bill in a letter that states, "Approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school in the United States every year. These students are first-generation immigrants who were largely raised in this country and consider themselves Americans. The DREAM Act offers these hardworking students an expedited path to citizenship for accomplishing academic pursuits and/or serving in the U.S. military. In addition, the DREAM Act is important for our long-term economic growth, as it will provide a mechanism for these young people to come out of the shadows and ultimately to work legally in this country." NACUBO and many others in the higher education community have long supported the different iterations of the DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001.
The Senate bill removes the age cap for DREAM Act eligibility, repeals the current federal law that limits states' options for providing in-state tuition to undocumented students, and allows DREAM Act students to qualify for federal loans and work-study.
The Senate bill also:
- Takes steps to streamline the green card process for those who graduate with an advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degree from a U.S. higher education institution.
- Exempts from the employment-based green card limit international students with advanced STEM degrees.
- Provides for the recapture of unused employment-based green cards from prior fiscal years to help eliminate the green card backlog.
- Includes H-1B provisions in the bill will permit the higher education community to continue to bring many of the best minds from across the world to U.S. campuses to teach students and perform critical research.
While Senate passage of the legislation represents an historic opportunity to address border security and immigration policy, the path to passage of a final bill will be long—if it happens at all. Many GOP lawmakers are skeptical that the House of Representatives will be able to pass such a comprehensive reform package, or even more narrowly targeted immigration bills. Some suggest the House may act on smaller measures focused on border security, government benefits for immigrants, and a possible pathway to citizenship. Even with a "divide and conquer" approach, passage of any such legislation will be difficult with the current make-up of the House.