WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is promising to work with senators to help pass legislation allowing thousands of young people who attend college or join the military to become legal U.S. residents, according to Hispanic lawmakers who met Thursday with the president.
"The president made it absolutely clear to us that he would leave no stone unturned" in pushing for Senate approval of what's known as the DREAM Act, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Calif., said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to add the immigration measure to a defense policy bill the Senate plans to take up before lawmakers leave town to campaign for the November elections.
Republicans oppose that move and have accused Reid of playing politics with the bills.
Some military leaders support Reid because of the recruitment potential for the armed services. Under the bill, the young people must have come to the U.S. before age 16 and have lived here for five years. At least two years of military service would be required.
"The president noted that it is time to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, especially when those youth grew up in America and want to serve this country in the military or pursue a higher education," the White House said in a statement after Obama's meeting at the White House with Gutierrez, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
When Obama was a senator he supported the DREAM Act, which has been kicking around Congress for nearly a decade.
The meeting followed Obama's speech Wednesday night at a Hispanic awards dinner, where he urged Latinos not to punish Democrats at the polls because he's been unable to keep his promise to sign a comprehensive immigration bill into law.
Advocates, meanwhile, are launching a major lobbying effort for DREAM, enlisting educators, clergy and others to press senators to back the measure.
Velazquez said passing the bill "is the right thing to do. It's a matter of fairness for thousands and thousands of young kids" who entered the country illegally with their families. She and others say they should not be punished.
Republicans contend that the bill rewards law breakers.
"The DREAM Act is yet another attempt by Washington Democrats to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants who have broken our laws," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.
Carlos Saavedra, national coordinator of United We Dream, a coalition of student immigrant advocacy groups, said voters who care about the issue will be watching how senators vote on the bill.
"Folks are literally dropping their lives right now to work on this," Saavedra said Thursday. "This is one of our last chances to get some justice to the immigrant community and immigrant youth. It's huge."
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