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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, plans to push legislation in Congress this month that would make citizens of more than 50,000 children of undocumented workers in this country.
Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent staff attorney Patrick Shen to the Latino Alliance of Salt Lake City to promote the DREAM Act for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.
Calling the beneficiaries "a perpetual underclass," Shen said, "They're here. And we can bury our heads in the sand .... or we can turn them into assets. We can allow them to work and pay taxes."
Some people mistakenly see the act as inviting illegal immigration. But the undocumented minors speak English, have been in this country for years and deserve to be Americans, said Shen, a Taiwanese immigrant who attended Brigham Young University.
As legal residents, they could qualify for resident tuition rates at state colleges, financial aid and legally work while applying for U.S. citizenship.
Utah is one of a handful of states that already grant undocumented immigrants the lowest tuition rates at state schools.
"The fact of the matter is that cheaper tuition at state schools, no matter how beneficial for these young people, will not solve the larger problem: their illegal immigration status," Hatch told the Senate.
While I do not advocate granting unchecked amnesty to illegal immigrants, I am, however, in favor of providing children -- children who did not make the decision to enter the United States illegally -- the opportunity to earn the privilege of remaining here legally. The DREAM Act will do just that," Hatch told the Senate.
Tony Yapias, state Hispanic Affairs director and a former juvenile probation officer, said the DREAM Act could transform the outlook for thousands of young Utah residents.
"A lot of kids have said to me, 'What do I do after high school? Beyond that, there's nothing else for me,"' he recounted.
Every child is entitled to go to school in this country without having to show legal-resident status, said Richard Gomez, civil rights monitoring officer at the Utah Office of Education.
"It's not the child's fault" if parents don't have residency documents, he said. "Under our Constitution they have a right to a free public education."
That right isn't specifically listed in the Constitution, but the U.S. Supreme Court and federal judges have ruled that all children, regardless of immigration status, can enroll in public schools. But even with a university degree, undocumented immigrants have few career prospects.
Hispanic advocates say Utah more than 65,000 undocumented immigrants live, work and go to school in Utah.
Elected officials from President Bush down have talked for years about immigration policy reform, but haven't acted, said Mark Alvarez, an attorney and Alianza Latina vice president who wasn't certain Hatch can make a difference.
But shen says Hatch has bipartisan support and 13 co-sponsors led by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
"This is very high on Senator Hatch's agenda," Shen said. "We're confident we can get it through."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)