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Some pols filed private immigration bills, opposed DREAM Act

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questions a witness on

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, questions a witness on Capitol Hill in Washington during a Senate hearing on the use of drones. (April 23, 2013) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- In 2000, Sen. Chuck Grassley sponsored a private bill that granted permanent residence and the ability to apply for citizenship for Lupe Landeros, a 19-year-old who was brought to the United States without a visa from Mexico when he was 2.

"It wasn't Lupe's fault that he was here illegally, and he wanted to serve what he thought was his country in the military," Grassley (R-Iowa) said then.

Ten years later, Grassley voted to block the DREAM Act, which aims to do for hundreds of thousands of young people called "dreamers" -- who also were brought here illegally as children -- what he did for Landeros.

The switch reflects the evolution of Grassley's position.

In 2004, he voted for the DREAM Act sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and cited efforts he had made on to help young people like Landeros. Yet in 2007 and 2010 he voted to block consideration of the DREAM Act sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Asked about it, Grassley called Landeros' case "unique," and said he opposed the later bills because Democrats tried to rush them through without debate and amendments.

In a 2011 hearing on the DREAM Act, Grassley said he worried it would "set the stage for another mass amnesty" and "open the door to massive fraud and abuse" because "it would allow anyone to apply."

Durbin denied those arguments, saying only children brought here five years before the law's passage are eligible; they must have "good moral character," and fraudulent applications are a crime.

Lorella Praeli, of the pro-immigrant United We Dream, called Grassley's vote to block the DREAM Act after helping Landeros "hypocrisy. This was a 'dreamer' he was talking about."

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said it wasn't hypocritical, saying he filed the bill for Landeros "long before any 'DREAM Act' " or the plight of "dreamers" became an issue.

Nearly a dozen other lawmakers filed private immigration bills in the past two decades but voted against the DREAM Act or other immigration measures. They include both Mississippi senators, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) filed private bills in 2004, 2005 and 2007 for legal status for Griselda Lopez Negrete, brought here as toddler illegally by her mother -- and voted no on the DREAM Act in 2010.

Private bills help an individual or family get around the law because their case is exceptional in nature, said Crystal Williams, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Since the last major immigration overhaul in 1986, Congress has approved 94 private bills, the Congressional Research Service said. Just eight of them passed after the 9/11 attacks.

Grassley hasn't sponsored a private bill since 2000, records show. He will play a key role as the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee this week as it takes up the bipartisan immigration bill.

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