President Obama strongly urged Congress on Thursday to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including provisions that would expand access to higher education for illegal immigrants.
Although the president did not offer many details or a legislative timeline in a speech at American University, he laid out a broad outline of what he would like to see in immigration legislation. And he specified that he would like it to include the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the Dream Act. That measure would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants attending college who were brought to the United States as children.
"We need to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents by denying them the chance to stay here, earn an education, and contribute their talents," President Obama said.
Mr. Obama also said immigration reform should include a registration process for illegal immigrants currently in the United States, continuing border enforcement, fairer pathways to legal status, and a legal-worker program to discourage businesses from hiring illegal immigrants.
The president blamed Republicans for partisanship and election-year politics, but said a bipartisan effort was necessary. The Democrats have a strong voting base in the Hispanic community, and many believe that focusing on immigration could benefit them in the elections.
Some staunch advocates of the Dream Act have suggested passing that legislation first, separate from a comprehensive immigration bill, but others have said that approach could diminish the chances that the broader overhaul would get through Congress.
"It's a tricky debate because the broad appeal of the Dream Act makes it more likely to pass, but without that, it becomes harder to pass the rest," said William Leogrande, public-affairs dean at American University.
Opponents of the Dream Act argue that a publicly financed education should not be given to illegal immigrants and that the legislation could end up taking away educational opportunities from legal citizens.
Felipe Matos, a Miami Dade College student who came to the United States from Brazil at the age of 14, has become a national voice for illegal immigrants seeking education. In an interview last week, he described how many children brought here illegally see the United States as their natural home.
"All we're asking for is a chance, an opportunity, to contribute to the only place we know and love," Mr. Matos said. "Instead, we're being put away."