Act gives students chance of becoming legal residents

Act gives students chance of becoming legal residents »Play Video
Victor Chanes
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Victor Chanes was just 3 years old when his parents brought him to the United States from Mexico.

"I don't know any other country. I love this country," said Chanes, who is now attending and paying his own way through Bakersfield College.

Chanes was brought here without proper documentation and is considered an illegal immigrant. Approximately 2.1 million young immigrants in the United States are in the same situation, and about 26 percent are in California.

Because of their immigration status, these young people are denied numerous opportunities. They cannot join the military, nor are they eligible for government-sponsored financial aid to attend college, nor can they legally drive.

That's where a piece of legislation called the DREAM Act comes in. Under this act, undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools and are of "good character," have lived continuously here for at least five years, and must intend to go to college or serve in the military, would be put on a path to legal U.S. residency.

"It's a great bill, and it's something that we really need to help our young people who are getting through school now," said Jim Young, who is the ex-chancellor of the Kern Community College District and lives in Arvin.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid is adding the DREAM Act as an amendment to a defense authorization bill. The first vote could come as early as Tuesday.

But passage is uncertain. Though the act has bipartisan support, not all Republicans who voted for it in past years can be counted on supporters this time around.

And some claim the act amounts to amnesty for illegal immigrants. But Chanes says he's an optimist. He wants to join the Marines, but because he doesn't have a social security number, he cannot join.

"I live the American life, and I wouldn't identify myself as anything else," he said.