The bill would benefit students and graduates who have been in the country from a young age and have integrated considerably into American society, says Jeanne Batalova, a policy analyst at MPI. It would also offer an incentive to those still in elementary and high school to continue their education or join the military. At the same time, Ms. Batalova says, the bill imposes tough conditions. She estimates that fewer than half of those eligible would likely be able to take advantage of the opportunity.
"Going to college might be difficult from a financial point of view," she says. "And for many, the military route might not be an option."
The DREAM Act also has attracted powerful opposition. Although immigration reform enjoys support in the US – a Pew Hispanic Center survey last year found that 63 percent of Americans favored offering illegal residents a path to citizenship – many conservatives object to the DREAM Act as a step down a slippery slope toward amnesty for illegal immigrants. "Amnesty has never been a good way to solve the illegal immigration problem," says Jena McNeill of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
Justin Pulliam, president of the Texas Aggie Conservatives, a student group at Texas A&M University, goes to school in the state with the second-highest number of illegal immigrants and some of the most liberal education policies. It allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state schools. Last month Mr. Pulliam persuaded a majority of his school's student Senate to vote against the policy, which is also part of the DREAM Act. He's sympathetic to the predicament of undocumented students, but he worries that the bill would only encourage people to break the law.