Military chief favors legalizing young immigrants - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Military chief favors legalizing young immigrants

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon's manpower chief made the Obama administration's latest long-shot pitch Tuesday to revive faltering legislation to legalize young immigrants who came to the country illegally.

Clifford Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, called the measure, known as the Dream Act, a "commonsense" and "obvious" way to attract more high-quality recruits to the armed forces. It faces long odds in Congress, where most Republicans and a handful of Democrats are likely to band together to block it from advancing in a test-vote expected Wednesday.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, said he expected to bring the measure to the House floor this week, but it's unclear whether it would have the votes to prevail.

President Barack Obama's push for the measure and congressional Democrats' determination to vote on it before year's end reflect the party's efforts to satisfy Hispanic groups whose backing has been critical in elections and will be again in 2012.

Critics regard the measure as backdoor amnesty for lawbreakers.

The legislation would give hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16, and who have been here for five years and graduated from high school or gained an equivalency degree, a chance to gain legal status if they joined the military or attended college.

"They're actually doing very well in our schools, many of them. They're high quality," Stanley told reporters in a conference call. "As we look at our force now for the future, bringing in talented people in this cyclical nature of how our recruiting business goes is significant."

Hispanic activists — angry that Obama hasn't pressed harder for a broad immigration overhaul to give several million illegal immigrants a path to legalization — have described the Dream Act as the least Congress can do on the issue. It targets the most sympathetic of the millions of undocumented people — those brought to the United States as children, who in many cases consider themselves American, speak English and have no ties to or family living in their native countries.

The measure is "very, very far from amnesty," said Cecilia Munoz, Obama's director of intergovernmental affairs, citing the numerous hurdles those eligible would have to scale in order to keep their legal status and eventually become citizens.

The bill's prospects "should be good, if we move past politics and look at what's good for the country, what's good for our military readiness, what's good for our competitiveness, what's good for the law enforcement goals that we are trying to achieve," Munoz added.

Estimates differ widely as to how many young people would be eligible for some sort of legal status under the measure. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that one version of the bill that applies to immigrants aged 35 and under would let more than 1 million apply for legal status over the next 10 years, and potentially allow 500,000 to receive it.

A newer version of the bill changed to improve its chances only applies to those under 30, which supporters say would limit it to 300,000 or so.

GOP opponents in the Senate circulated a memo calling the measure "mass amnesty," noting that the bill has no cap and no end-date. They contend it could allow even the most dangerous criminals and terrorists to gain legal status.

"What does it say? It says to anybody thinking about coming illegally, if I can just get in the United States and hang on for a number of years, sooner or later they're going to make me lawful. That's not the message we need to send," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. "Americans want us to enforce the laws, but we are considering a bill that would reward and encourage their violation."


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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