Open for Questions: The DREAM Act with Cecilia Munoz

Uploaded by whitehouse on 29.11.2010

Stephanie Valencia: Thanks, everyone, for joining today's
live web chat on the DREAM Act. My name is Stephanie Valencia.
I'm with the White House Office of Public Engagement.
And we're here today to answer your questions about
the DREAM Act.
I'm sitting in the Secretary of War Room here at the White House
with Cecilia Munoz, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at
the White House, Deputy Assistant to the President.
She's also the President's, one of his immigration policy
advisors, has been doing this work for the last 20 years.
She's going to go ahead and take your questions
and comments about the DREAM Act today.
So before we get started, I want to go ahead and have Cecilia
give a brief overview about what the DREAM Act is and what it
isn't before we get to your questions and comments.
Cecilia will answer that question and then we'll go ahead
and do the live Q&A, both taking questions that were
submitted ahead of time on the Facebook invite,
but also take your live questions.
Please visit to submit your questions now.
So with that, Cecilia.
Cecilia Munoz: Thanks very much, Stephanie.
Thanks to everybody who's joining us.
The DREAM Act is a part of the broader immigration agenda that
is a priority for the President.
What it does is deal with the proportion of the population
that's here illegally who came as young people, people who
came, who were brought by their parents as children, who have
grown up in this country, have succeeded and want to go to
college or to serve the country in the military.
And what the DREAM Act does is provide those students with
protection and a legal status that allows them to stay in the
country, pursue their studies and pursue -- or pursue service
to the country.
It's been around for many years.
It's had bipartisan support for many years.
And the reason we're talking about it now is because we have
an opportunity for a vote on the DREAM Act in the House and in
the Senate during this congressional lame duck session.
So we have an opportunity to pass the DREAM Act.
This is a really pivotal time, because it provides protection
to students who did not choose to be in this country illegally.
It's sort of based on this notion that you don't punish
children for the actions of their parents.
These are students who have done everything we've asked
them to do.
They've been successful. They want to move forward.
They want to continue their contributions, continue their
studies or serve this country and the DREAM Act gives them the
opportunity to do that.
We're expecting action in the House and the Senate within
the next several weeks.
And so this is a really pivotal time to be having
this conversation.
Stephanie Valencia: So we'll go ahead and take our first question.
Eric Trasakof asks, does the United States government agree
that the DREAM Act qualified students could help the country
remain competitive in the new world economy where diversity is
key for success?
Also, what are the negative aspects of the DREAM Act
according to the President's administration, if there
are any at all?
Cecilia Munoz: Well, the President has been a supporter
of the DREAM Act since his days in the Illinois State Senate.
So it's something that he personally believes in very much
and that the administration is strongly supporting.
Secretary Duncan, for example, of the Department of Education,
has been out there very visibly making the argument that this is
part of our agenda for competitiveness,
that we're talking about not wasting talent.
These are young people who have worked very hard,
who have a real contribution to make.
If you hear university Presidents talking about the
undocumented students that do have managed to go to college,
some of them are real stars.
And it just becomes clear as you learn about these individuals
that it makes no sense to slam the door of opportunity
in their faces.
That we have everything to gain as a country economically by
making sure that everyone has the ability to reach their full potential.
And the DREAM Act is very much a part of that.
So we don't see a down side to the DREAM Act.
It's a piece of the broader immigration agenda.
We have a lot to do to fix what's broken about our
immigration system.
But it's not just the DREAM Act students who
are victimized by inaction.
As a country, when we don't act, we end up falling further behind
because we're really depriving ourselves of the talents of
these extraordinary people.
Stephanie Valencia: Great. Our next question will come from Marilee Newton.
While I support this, won't this make other people come in
illegal to give their children the same chance?
Will this be a one-time only offer?
Cecilia Munoz: That's a great question.
So the way the DREAM Act is structured, students who qualify
have to have been in the country for five years and they have to
have come to this country when they were -- would have been
brought by their parents when they were 15 or younger.
So the DREAM Act only applies to students who are already here.
So you can't really make the argument that other people are
going to come seeking the benefits of the DREAM Act
because of the way the DREAM Act works, it's the population is
clearly defined and limited and it's limited to folks who are
already here and who have been here for quite some time.
Stephanie Valencia: Great. Our next question from Chris Barts.
Do they have to live in the United States for a
predetermined time?
If so, what is that, before the DREAM Act is applicable?
Cecilia Munoz: So the DREAM Act applies just to students who
have been in the country for five years and they have to have
been brought by their parents when they were 15 or younger.
And then there's also a number of other requirements.
For example, they have to have not been convicted of crimes.
They have to show good moral character.
There's a host of other things that they have to show, that
immigrants in general have to show, in order to come
to the United States.
But, again, it's important that it's a defined population.
You can't make the argument that the DREAM Act will act as some
kind of magnet for people to decide to come in the future.
Stephanie Valencia: Can you maybe talk a little bit more
about the military aspect component to it?
Because I think that's something that folks don't realize.
Cecilia Munoz: Yeah. And we're sitting in the Secretary of War Room here in
the White House, actually.
So the two things you have to do, a DREAM Act student has to
do prospectively in order to stay qualified for the
protection they would receive is either go to college
successfully for two years or serve in the military
for two years.
And we know because DREAM Act advocates have shown us through
their advocacy that there are a number of students who are
interested in the DREAM Act as an opportunity to serve their country.
They see this as their country. They've grown up here.
And military service is an incredibly important element to
the DREAM Act.
In fact, it's part of the strategic plan of
the Department of Defense.
The DREAM Act is listed as part of the defense department's
strategic plan because it's important for our
military readiness.
Stephanie Valencia: Great.
Miriam Roke asks, what do you mean by stop punishing innocent
young people for the actions of their parents?
Cecilia Munoz: That's a great question.
So in the course of many years of advocacy on the DREAM Act,
and on immigration issues overall, an argument that we
hear with some frequency is this notion that if people are here
in violation of the law, they're lawbreakers, and we should be
applying the law and using every opportunity to deport everybody
who is here illegally.
The population that's here illegally is 10 million people,
and it doesn't -- it just doesn't make sense, it doesn't
-- it's not practical to assume that we're going to be able to
round up and deport 10 million people.
The DREAM Act students are a particularly compelling part of
the undocumented population, because they didn't make the
choice to come here illegally.
They came as children, sometimes as infants.
And I've met DREAM Act students who grew up in this country not
ever realizing that they weren't Americans, their parents never
told them the circumstances around their arrival.
And they found out that they didn't have legal status when it
was time to apply to college.
They had been successful in high school, they had graduated in
many cases with honors.
And when they were applying to college and needed to provide
the information for in-state tuition is the point at which
their parents tell them, well, actually, you don't qualify
because of the circumstances under which we brought you
to this country.
And the students end up shocked and in disbelief that they are
not citizens of the only country they've ever known.
And so one of the things that's fundamental to the DREAM Act is
that even as we enforce our immigration laws,
that we have to make choices.
And it doesn't make sense to, expending enforcement resources
on people who, when you meet them, you kind of recognize as
American students, because they've grown up here.
This is their country.
And it doesn't make sense to punish these students for the
choices that their parents made by denying them an opportunity
for in-state tuition in the states that they've grown up in
or an opportunity to serve the only country that they've known
through military service.
So that's what we mean when we say that.
Stephanie Valencia: So Andrew Thiebalt just asked, what are
some of the major arguments against the DREAM Act and why
do you think they're wrong?
Cecilia Munoz: We hear multiple things.
The most common thing that we hear about the DREAM Act is that
they use the "A" word, they call it an amnesty, that it's somehow
granting some kind of blanket protection that
people haven't earned.
And the reason it's not an amnesty is because there are a
whole host of requirements that students need to fulfill in
order to qualify for the DREAM Act, especially the
qualification that they have to go on to study in higher
education or serve in the military for a couple of years,
plus they have to demonstrate good moral character and other
-- meet other qualifications that immigrants need to meet.
We don't believe it qualifies as an amnesty, and it's not -- the
other argument that we hear that relates to this amnesty
argument is that it's rewarding people who have broken the law.
And again, as I said in response to the previous question, these
students didn't make -- didn't choose to break the law.
In fact, they did everything everybody asked them to do by
being successful students.
So those are the principal arguments that we hear.
We also hear arguments that in economic hard times, that it
might not make sense to be providing this kind of benefit
to people who are here without immigration status.
But, again, if you look at what happens to people if they don't
have an opportunity to be -- to pursue their studies or to serve
the country, we, as a nation, actually suffer more
economically by denying opportunities than by making
those opportunities available.
These are folks who have essentially earned
those opportunities.
And their ability to contribute to the country's economic life
is at stake.
And so when we slam the door shut on what is an estimated
65,000 students a year who graduate from high school but
face these obstacles to going to college, we're really hurting
ourselves economically.
Stephanie Valencia: So we've gotten a couple of questions on things like
timing and marrying it up with another bill.
Frank Vargas asks, when is the DREAM Act going to get voted on
in the House and the Senate and what are the chances of it passing?
And Nico Neveretti asks, what are the actual prospects of this
bill actually passing either as a stand alone or married
with another bill?
So maybe you can address both of those.
Cecilia Munoz: These are great questions.
And I don't have precise answers to them.
We are in now what's called a lame duck session of the Congress.
In fact, Congress is back in session this week.
So we know that the lame duck session is going to take place
this week and into December.
We don't know how long Congress will be in but it will happen by
definition sometime within the next month.
We don't know whether the House or the Senate is going to go
first in taking up the DREAM Act.
We do it know that we had an opportunity for a vote on the
DREAM Act in the Senate several weeks ago as an amendment to the
Defense Department bill.
And there was a vote on proceeding to that bill,
which failed.
And so that was -- that debate on the Senate floor was about a
lot of different things.
Because the DREAM Act was just a part of the bill
that was being brought forward.
What we do know now is that in the Senate, the DREAM Act is
likely to be brought up as a free-standing bill, which means
that the majority leader will move to bring the DREAM Act to
the floor and there will be a vote on proceeding to the bill
and hopefully, if that succeeds, a vote on the overall bill.
So that gives us a clean opportunity at a vote on the
DREAM Act on its merits in the Senate.
We don't know exactly when we expect that vote to happen.
It could be as soon as this week, or it could be another
week or even two.
And the same holds true for the House.
We're not -- it could come up at any point while they're in
session during this lame duck session.
But we don't know exactly when it's going to come up.
So for people who are engaged in this debate, who want to be
involved, this is a very pivotal time.
If you've been following press coverage about the DREAM Act,
you'll know that there's a lot of debate about it, a lot of
people writing editorials for newspapers.
There are a lot of varying opinions about the act.
So for people in particular who are students who are parts of
this population or who know people who are part of this
population, this is an important moment, an educational moment,
to help people understand what the DREAM Act is all about,
and to make sure that it's well understood as Congress
approaches these votes.
Stephanie Valencia: So one question that we've been getting
is from a number of different folks is, what is the president
and the administration doing to secure both Democratic and
Republican votes to pass the DREAM Act?
Cecilia Munoz: So the DREAM Act has always been a bipartisan bill.
There's always been at least one, and sometimes many,
co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.
And that continues to be true.
Senator Lugar, along with Senator Durban, a Republican
and a Democrat, are the principal sponsors in
the Senate, for example.
And we know that there are seven Republicans in the Senate who
have voted for the DREAM Act in the past.
Some of them have also been co-sponsors of the DREAM Act
in the past.
So these are folks who we know are believers in the DREAM Act,
but we don't know whether or not they'll vote for the DREAM Act
this time around.
If they do, we think we have a very, very good
chance of winning.
But the honest answer is we don't know if these folks will
step forward to support the DREAM Act right now.
And so -- and in the House we haven't had an opportunity for
a vote recently.
So it's less clear exactly where the votes are.
But we do know that there are Republicans in the House of
Representatives who have previously been co-sponsors
of the DREAM Act.
And so we have an opportunity for those folks.
What's very clear is that we need 60 votes in the Senate.
And in order to get to 60, we're going to need some Republicans
to come forward and support the DREAM Act.
So obviously we're focused on the folks who have voted
for it before.
There is some focus on the senators who were not in the
Senate when the DREAM Act came up before, who have an
opportunity to vote for it for the first time now.
And so we have engaged members of the President's Cabinet,
Secretary Duncan, for example, is taking a lead in making sure
that people understand how important the DREAM Act is from
an educational perspective.
We know that it's part of the Defense Department's
strategic plan.
The Department of Homeland Security is also engaged and the
Secretary there is also helping make calls and engaged in
advocacy on this issue.
So we're in-kind of an all hands on deck moment here in the
administration involving multiple agencies, the president
himself is engaged.
And we're going to do everything we can to lay the ground work
and create the space for people who are -- who know this
population of students to do what they know is the
right thing to do.
And so we are hopeful of bipartisan support.
Getting to 60 in the Senate is never easy.
I wish I could say that we were guaranteed success.
But there are no guarantees in this business.
And so this is -- that's why this is
such an important moment.
This is why we're doing things like this web chat.
And there are a host of activities like this every day
to make sure we create a ground swell and create momentum to
create the space for the people who support this to step forward
and vote for it.
Stephanie Valencia: So a couple of questions on comprehensive immigration reform
and how this fits into what that means.
Cecilia Munoz: So comprehensive immigration reform
is the broader immigration agenda.
We have a broken immigration system.
The reason we have 10 million undocumented people, including
these DREAM Act students living and working in the United States
is because we have a system that hasn't worked for many years.
And the comprehensive immigration reform is a strategy
to ask the Congress, it's essentially a legal proposal
to change the law, to fix what's broken about
our immigration system.
So that means changing the way that we enforce the laws, and
that we have right now a series of laws that are very
challenging to enforce and often don't make sense, that clog up
the system and make it hard for us to do what we think law
enforcement priorities dictate that we should do.
So there's an enforcement piece of that agenda.
There's a piece having to do with the 10 million people
who are here.
It doesn't make sense to try to expend the resources to deport
everybody who's here illegally to try to remove 10 million
people from the country.
So it provides an opportunity for people to get on the right
side of the law by paying taxes and learning English
and fulfilling a host of other requirements.
And then there are changes to the legal immigration system.
So that it flows, that we get rid of backlogs that contribute
to the problems that we have with our immigration system.
So the president is deeply committed to reforming our
immigration laws.
We must have a policy that works.
And so while we have been -- haven't been successful in
generating the bipartisan support that we needed in these
first two years in office, it's going to continue to
be a priority.
This is something that we believe we're here to fix the
most vexing problems that the country faces,
and this is one of them.
So we're going to keep at it until we get this job done.
Stephanie Valencia: So Mike Robinette asks, at what point do we start enforcing our
immigration laws to stop illegals from coming,
rather than making programs that encourage more to come.
How about securing our port or southern border first?
Cecilia Munoz: That's a great question.
I would not agree, I guess, with the premise of the question that
the DREAM Act actually encourages people to come.
Because it only applies to people who are already here.
So nobody who might be making the decision to come to the
United States is necessarily going to benefit -- is going to
benefit at all from the DREAM Act.
We are heavily, heavily invested in immigration enforcement.
In fact, there are now more resources at the border in terms
of personnel and equipment than at any time in our history.
And in fact, apprehensions of migrants are going down, just as
interdiction of drugs and arms and money, not just from south
to north, but also from north to south, interdictions of those
things are going up.
So we are heavily invested in enforcement.
But the problem is that enforcement by itself doesn't
fix what's wrong with our immigration system.
We have a set of laws that doesn't work.
And in order to really make sure that we're securing the border
and making sure that we are choosing who comes to this
country as an immigrant, we need Congress to act.
We need an immigration reform.
The folks who say, well, we ought to just do enforcement
first, those folks have really dominated the debate now for
more than ten years.
In 1996, Congress passed -- the Republican Congress passed an
immigration reform that was all about enforcement, and it
increased dramatically the resources going to the border.
If enforcement by itself worked as a strategy, we wouldn't be
having this discussion right now.
What we need instead is a legal reform to make sure that we have
a system that works.
And that's what comprehensive immigration reform is about.
Stephanie Valencia: So we're getting quite a few questions and comments about
why we need 60 votes to move to this legislation.
So I think -- and not just 50.
So I think maybe you going into a little bit of an explanation
on Senate procedure.
Cecilia Munoz: I wish it weren't true that we need 60 votes.
But what's going to happen, because it's happened on pretty
much everything that's gone through the Senate in the last
couple of years, is that the sponsors of the bill, and the
majority leader will bring the bill up for a vote and somebody,
and that somebody is likely to be on the Republican side of the
aisle, will filibuster.
And when you filibuster, what essentially you're doing is
extending debate and in order to -- you can debate the bill
indefinitely until somebody stops you.
And the way to stop you is what's called a cloture motion.
And that's what stops a filibuster.
And in order for cloture to pass, you need 60 votes
under Senate procedure.
So that's why we know we have a majority of the Senate that
supports the DREAM Act.
But unfortunately we also know that opponents of the DREAM Act
are going to filibuster the bill.
And so what that does is raise the vote threshold to 60 votes.
So as a practical matter, if we want to see the DREAM Act
enacted into law, we need 60.
Stephanie Valencia: Great.
So Lucia Vasquez asks, is there a chance that Obama makes an
executive order to pass the DREAM Act in case it does not
pass during the lame duck session?
Cecilia Munoz: I wish that that were possible, but it's not.
For in order to change the law in this way, Congress has to act.
That's what Congress is for.
And that's why we have to fight for the votes to make sure the
DREAM Act passes.
Unfortunately, the executive powers of the president don't
allow him to waive what Congress does.
And Congress makes the immigration laws
in this country.
And so for that, in order to pass the DREAM Act or an
immigration reform, we have to have action in the Congress.
Stephanie Valencia: So we're getting also quite a few questions on what people can
do to help in these next couple of days.
Cecilia Munoz: So those are great questions.
And there are a number of organizations around the country
that are very heavily engaged.
So I encourage you to look for some of those.
As a member of the White House staff, I can't ask anyone to
reach out to Congress or to lobby the Congress so I won't.
But I will say that there is a lot of misunderstanding out
there about what the DREAM Act is about.
And there are a lot of organizations that are engaged
in telling the story of DREAM Act students.
Because when you're actually talking about specific
individuals with names and histories and faces, it's really
hard to say some of the kind of ugly stuff that gets said about
passing these kinds of proposals.
So we need help educating people about what the DREAM Act is about.
We need help demonstrating that there's momentum and that
there's a broad base of support.
That, while the DREAM Act students themselves have been
perhaps some of the most compelling advocates I've ever
seen, there are all kinds of other people who are not
directly affected by this themselves, who are also
spokespeople, who are also engaged, who are also helping
educate through their religious congregations, through their
community organizations, on their campuses.
There's all kinds of ways that folks can reach out.
If you listen to talk radio, there's a conversation about
it going on there.
If you read newspapers, there's letters to the
editor that are being written.
We're asking people to respond and to make it clear that there
is tremendous support out there for proposals like the DREAM Act
and to help people understand exactly what it means.
Stephanie Valencia: Great.
John Paul Savagio asks, how will the DREAM Act be funded?
Cecilia Munoz: So the DREAM Act doesn't necessarily require funding
in order to implement.
I mean, I guess the Department of Homeland Security will need
to process people who qualify for the DREAM Act.
And there is likely to be an application fee, like there is
for every other immigration process.
And the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service or U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Service, which is the agency
which would be processing these applications, will charge a fee
and they're fee based, and so the fee will cover the
costs of implementing.
Stephanie Valencia: So again, if you want to ask a question,
I think we have about seven or eight minutes left.
Go to
We've gotten a couple of questions from people about
detention center reforms, enforcement under the
Obama administration.
Can you address some of those?
Cecilia Munoz: Yes.
So there is, as I mentioned, there's a whole lot that needs
to be changed about the way immigration works
in this country.
We have right now a very enforcement focused set of
laws which are, in fact, so enforcement focused that they
have done things like clog up the courts and detention centers.
And unfortunately, the agency, the Department of Homeland
Security, which was created in the last administration, frankly
doesn't have the best track record up until now for managing
its detention process.
So one of the first things that Secretary Napolitano did when
she was asked to serve and be in charge of the agency was to get
experts to study exactly what was happening in the detention
system, and to propose a series of reforms to make sure that
we're using those resources wisely and that people are being
treated in a way that's consistent with our values when
they're in immigration detention.
And so those changes are underway.
We have a lot to do to make sure that we implement them in the
way that we intend.
But that has been an important priority at the department,
because there were so many really quite severe problems in
the detention system.
On the enforcement side, we -- ICE, which is Immigration
Customs Enforcement, has established a clear set of
priorities, which you can find, by the way, on the DHS,
Department of Homeland Security website, which establishes that
if you've got a population of 10 million people, you can't just
-- I mean, it's an impossible task, it's a huge ocean of folks
that are subject to immigration enforcement.
You have to make strategic choices about how you use
your enforcement resources.
So ICE has laid out a strategy that essentially prioritizes
people who have been convicted of crimes as the principal
targets for enforcement.
So we get a certain amount of resources from the Congress
every year to remove people from the United States.
We're trying to expend those resources so that we maximize
the number of people who are criminals who we remove
from this country.
And so in the last year, the number of people who are
convicted of crimes that we've removed has gone up by 71%.
And the number of people who are not criminals that we have
removed from the country has gone down by about 23%.
So we're trying to use our enforcement resources
as wisely as possible.
We're trying to make implementation choices,
strategic choices, that are kind of consistent with the best law
enforcement practices.
But most importantly, we're trying to reform the law so that
what we have is a workable series of laws.
So that people who come to this country come legally.
And that employers have the ability to make sure that the
people that they hire are here legally in a way that doesn't
inconvenience them or their folks in their work force.
So that's why we're trying to reform the system of laws.
We are right now implementing a system that doesn't work and
trying to make the best judgments that we can within
those constraints.
But the real answer to fixing what's broken here is for
Congress to work with the administration in reforming
our immigration system.
Stephanie Valencia: So we have a couple minutes left.
I think it would be helpful, Jasmine asks why -- can you
please clarify again why this is not a free ride?
If you can address that.
And then maybe one more time talk about timing for the vote,
how many votes that we think that the DREAM Act may have
right now and what people can do to help.
Cecilia Munoz: So the reason the DREAM Act isn't a free ride
is because there are a host of requirements that these students
need to fulfill in order to qualify for the DREAM Act.
The most important of these -- so they have to have been
-- they have to have been in the country for five years.
They have to have been brought by their parents when they were
younger than 15.
But most importantly, they need to go to school or serve in the military.
So this is really about the contribution that
they're going to make.
And so nobody is granting anything to anybody who is just
sitting there and not making a contribution.
In fact, the whole point here is that these are students who are
poised to make a great contribution, either through
continuing their educations or through serving the country.
And we're making -- we're giving them the opportunity to do that.
It doesn't grant them funds.
It simply gives them an opportunity to earn their
own way forward.
And then I'm sorry, the second part of the question?
Stephanie Valencia: Kind of, the timing again, how many votes
we think that we have, and how people can help.
Cecilia Munoz: So the timing is we expect a vote in the
Senate and the House within the next several weeks.
It could be as soon as this week.
It could take another week or even two.
We don't know exactly how many votes we have, because there are
a number -- the way these bodies work, you sort of -- people
don't declare themselves until they have to.
We know we're over 50 votes in the Senate.
The question is how close are we to 60.
And we don't know the answer to that yet because there's -- the
pressure still needs to build for those folks who are on the
fence to declare themselves.
In the House, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, among others,
in the existing House leadership, are making the
rounds doing calls to assess where the votes are.
We're confident that we're in a reasonably good place.
But there's a lot more work to do to make sure that we get the
support that we need in order to pass the DREAM Act.
Which is why we are making sure as many people as possible know
about this incredibly important debate.
Stephanie Valencia: Well, thank you, Cecilia, very much.
And thank you, everyone, for being on today's web chat.
You know, stay tuned on for additional
updates from the White House office of Public Engagement as
this continues to move forward.
Thanks for all your questions, and hope to hear from you soon.
Cecilia Munoz: Thanks.