WASHINGTON -- Moises Serrano, 21, has always dreamed of being a journalist. He says he started a television news station at his high school in Yadkinville, North Carolina, where he would report, produce, edit, record and broadcast the news by himself every morning from the school library.
"A lot of the kids would come up to me and say, 'Wow, you look shorter than you do on TV,'" he told HuffPost. "It was very cool. They all really supported me."
After graduating high school, Serrano says he wanted to go to college to study journalism, but North Carolina has a law that requires undocumented students to pay out of state tuition for public colleges and universities. Serrano was born in Cancun, Mexico, and his dad lost his job as an electrical engineer to the recession, so the $750 per course he would have to pay for college is too expensive for him to afford.
"Right now I work at a bagel chip factory," he told HuffPost. "Seven hundred fifty dollars is a lot of money for me. It's basically what I make in two weeks, and I'm trying to help support my parents now that they're both unemployed."
Elda Garcia, 23, of Decatur, Texas, is in a similarly frustrating position. She says her stepfather brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was six, she graduated in the top ten percent of her class at Decatur High School with a 4.1 GPA. She dreams of being an X-ray technician, but had to drop out of college after completing only 21 hours because she could no longer afford the out-of-state tuition.
"It's really hard for me to go back and spend that money in college when we're not legally able to work anyway," she told HuffPost. "It's really demeaning when people see us and think, 'This person didn't go to school.' The truth is, many of us did, but we can't go any further than that. I want to come out of the shadows and prove that I am smart enough to have a better career than working at fast food restaurants."
The DREAM Act, which is up for vote in Congress this week and next, would allow young people like Serrano and Garcia who were not responsible for immigrating illegally to this country to adjust their immigration status by attending two years of college or joining the military. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expressed her strong support for the bill in a conference call Thursday, emphasizing that it would actually help the U.S. to improve immigration enforcement.
"What makes sense is to allow these young people a way to adjust their immigration status that is firm, but fair," she said. "By figuring out a solution for this category of young people, the DREAM act will allow DHS to prioritize to a greater extent the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws, including laws against those associated with smuggling drugs and smuggling other human beings."
Napolitano said the Obama Administration has deported more criminal aliens in the past two years than in any other two-year period in the nation's history, and that the DREAM Act would be part of a larger effort to reform immigration and strengthen security at U.S. borders.
"Only those of good character would be eligible for relief... nobody who poses a threat to public safety will be able to adjust their immigration status," she said. "The DREAM Act is not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform, and there are a whole myriad of issues surrounding border security and immigration enforcement that Congress needs to address. But the DREAM Act is one thing Congress can do right now to help DHS do its job of enforcing our nation's immigration laws in a way that makes the most sense for our public safety for our national security."
But Congress may have trouble getting the Republican votes needed to push the bill through. Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-Ohio) told Politico that he is opposed to any bill that grants amnesty to anyone.
"I just feel strongly that American people with this election clearly expressed the view that amnesty -- which this bill has by any definition of the word -- should not be granted," he said, "particularly not while we have lawlessness continuing at our borders."
Skeptics are also concerned about the DREAM Act's cost to taxpayers. Steve King (R-Iowa) asked the Congressional Budget Office for an estimate of the bill's cost after a report from the Center for Immigration Studies claimed the bill would cost taxpayers $6.2 billion a year and "crowd" U.S. students out of the classroom. But Napolitano said Thursday that the CBO has scored the latest version of the bill, filed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) late Tuesday night, "cost neutral."
"The cost argument doesn't hold water anymore," she told reporters.
Serrano told HuffPost that if the DREAM Act passes, it will significantly change his life.
"I would finally be able to lead a normal life, and by that I mean having the ability to drive down the road and go see my friends wherever I please, to go to college like my friends do to make myself a better person, and to give back to my family and my community," he said. "My family brought me here to have a better life and better opportunities, and that's what I want. I want to make them proud."