By KEVIN FREKING, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — In an appeal to Latino voters, three Senate candidates in the Southwest are calling on delegates to the Democratic National Convention to make support of a bill to help young undocumented immigrants gain citizenship a part of the party platform.
Rep. Martin Heinrich, the Democratic nominee for a Senate seat from New Mexico, is leading the effort and said that formally supporting the immigration proposal would provide voters with a clear choice on an issue that many care deeply about.
"I think the time has come for the DREAM Act to be part of our identity as a party," Heinrich said in a telephone interview.
Democratic candidate Shelley Berkley in Nevada said she supports the campaign, and a spokesman for Richard Carmona in Arizona said he does as well.
The DREAM Act would give young undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the military a path to citizenship.
The Homeland Security Department, under a directive from President Barack Obama, has stopped deporting undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for the DREAM Act, but that policy does not provide a path to citizenship. The administration said the change in policy will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants.
The Democratic-led House approved the DREAM Act – the acronym stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – in December 2010, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate. While the bill has not been approved by either the House or the Senate since, Obama has supported it as part of his immigration reform efforts.
Democratic officials believe that the growing Hispanic population in key battleground states such as New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada gives those who embrace the DREAM Act a competitive edge in this fall's elections. A Pew Hispanic Center survey conducted in late 2011 found that more than 9 in 10 Hispanics support the DREAM Act.
It's unclear whether the Democratic Party's platform committee will add support of the bill to the platform.
"The platform process is ongoing, but the president and Democrats support the DREAM Act and are committed to taking steps toward passing it." said Melanie Roussell, spokeswoman for the DNC.
The campaign of Heinrich's Republican opponent, Heather Wilson, didn't respond directly to the question of whether she would support or oppose the DREAM Act if elected. In the past, she has said that she would not support amnesty for children brought to the U.S. at a young age by their parents but that "we owe it to them to find a long-term solution."
In Nevada, a spokesman for the campaign of Berkley's Republican opponent, Sen. Dean Heller, called the DREAM Act "a Band-Aid solution that will not solve the larger problem." Heller was among the Republican House members who voted against the bill in 2010.
Arizona Republicans have yet to choose their Senate nominee. The front-runner in the primary race, Rep. Jeff Flake, voted against the act in 2010 and says securing the border should take priority.
Associated Press writer Jeri Clausing in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>