Emanuel, Duncan praise federal DREAM Act in advance of Durbin's Senate hearing

By:  Kristen Mack
Chicago Tribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today voiced their support for national DREAM Act legislation ahead of Tuesday's first U.S. Senate hearing.

Emanuel noted that during the spring session state legislators passed an Illinois version of the act that gives children of undocumented residents help paying for college by creating a private donation fund. That bill was modeled after the federal version, which is sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

“The DREAM Act is consistent and reinforces the values of citizenship,” Emanuel said during a telephone conference with reporters. “Having a DREAM Act pass at the national level will help us reinforce the right type of values.”

Emanuel’s public support of the DREAM Act in the last few months comes after critics said during the mayoral campaign that he did not do enough on the issue while he was President Obama’s White House chief of staff. Some of Emanuel’s opponents attempted to hold Emanuel responsible for Congress' failure to pass the DREAM Act, the residency bill for children of undocumented immigrants.

Some foes also said Emanuel obstructed comprehensive immigration reform because he thought it would hurt Democrats at the polls. Emanuel noted that while he was in Congress, he sponsored or co-sponsored comprehensive immigration reform every year.

Duncan, the former head of Chicago Public Schools, intends to testify at the Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

When he ran CPS, Duncan said students who “happened not to be born in America” found opportunities in public schools, but when the time came for them to go to college, “that door of opportunity was slammed shut.”

“We need to summon the courage and political will to do the right thing for our country,” Duncan said.

The federal DREAM Act has failed repeatedly in Congress. The bill -- officially the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- would set a path to citizenship for college students and military service members who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here for five years. Estimates say that after 10 years, roughly 1.2 million immigrants would take advantage of the citizenship path.