06/28/2011 12:41 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2011

Dems Push For DREAM Act Without GOP Support

WASHINGTON -- Republicans showed no signs of supporting the DREAM Act at a hearing for the bill on Tuesday, with Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) pressing for more border security in exchange for their support for a bill that would provide legal status to some undocumented young people.

Three representatives from the Obama administration spoke in support of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to some young people who entered the United States as children and agree to attend college or join the military, provided they have a clean criminal record and meet other eligibility requirements.

Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley said the administration fully supports the bill because it would widen the pool for military recruits, encourage higher education and allow immigration enforcement officials to focus their efforts on dangerous undocumented immigrants.

Duncan said the DREAM Act would generate $1.4 billion more in revenue than it would cost over the next decade, money that could go toward reducing the current $14.29 trillion deficit.

"To not take advantage of this as a country is simply nonsensical to me," he said. "This is an investment, not an expense."

But Cornyn and Grassley, who were the only Republicans to speak at the hearing, said they were still unconvinced of the merits of the bill, which has been around since the 1990s. Grassley questioned whether the Department of Homeland Security was bypassing Congress with a recent memo that reminded field agents to focus on top priorities, such as undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of felonies.

He also pressed Napolitano on whether the administration will offer administrative relief for young men and women who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, an executive power that Democrats have repeatedly asked the president to use.

Napolitano said President Barack Obama has rejected the idea of using administrative action to stop deportation of DREAM Act-eligible students.

"The policy of the department is there can be no categorical amnesty and there will not be, and that is why Congress needs to act," Napolitano said.

Cornyn said he supports the ideas behind the bill, but cannot vote for a bill that provides "amnesty" without enforcement measures.

"This bill, sadly, does nothing to fix our broken immigration system," he said. "It's a band-aid, and maybe worse, it will provide an incentive for future illegal immigration."

Democrats pushed back at that characterization, pointing out that border enforcement is already at record levels.

"To use border security as a reason not to give these kids a chance makes no sense to me," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.

Although the bill faces an uphill battle -- it failed in the Senate last year with more Republican support than it currently has -- Democrats said they will continue to push for the DREAM Act as an issue of fairness for the young people who support the bill, whom Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called some of the bravest he had encountered.

"We enjoy being Americans," he said. "Let people who work hard to be Americans enjoy it too."