ACE and 12 other higher education groups sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee today on the recently introduced comprehensive immigration bill, calling the measure an “important step” toward creating an immigration system that serves the needs of the country.
The committee will begin considering the hundreds of amendments that have been filed to the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744) on Thursday, setting the stage for an intensive debate on the measure.
On the higher education side, the bill incorporates an expansive version of the DREAM Act, a bill designed to give undocumented immigrants a path to higher education and citizenship. ACE and many in the higher education community have long supported the different iterations of the DREAM Act, which has been introduced in almost every Congress since 2001.
The DREAM Act included in S. 744 removes the age cap for eligibility and repeals the current federal law that limits states’ options to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students. The letter does ask the committee to amend S. 744 to allow DREAM students to be eligible for federal education loans and the work-study program.
“As we understand the bill, students in registered provisional immigrant status, even those who will qualify for the DREAM Act, are not eligible for federal educational assistance,” the groups wrote. “At a minimum, we urge the committee to restore eligibility for “self-help” student aid programs (loan and work) found in recent versions of the DREAM Act. Without this access, we are concerned that undocumented students will be unable to finance the education that makes citizenship possible. In general, unlike other federal benefit programs, student loans produce revenue for the federal government, as borrowers pay back more than they borrow.”
The letter also applauds provisions that streamline the green card process for those who graduate with an advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degree from a U.S. higher education institution, as well as reforms in the bill addressing non-immigrant visas, particularly the H-1B visa.
To fine-tune these sections, the groups request committee members to substitute the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM-Designated Degree Program list as the definition for STEM, as it “includes additional scientific fields that are critical to our economy.” They also outline concerns with some of the new fees proposed in the bill, including the $500 STEM labor certification fee and the $500 J-1 visa fee.
To follow tomorrow’s markup, see the Judiciary Committee’s website.