U.S. lawmakers are expected to consider before the end of the year a controversial immigration reform measure that would give tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants a chance to become legal residents by going to college or joining the armed forces. The proposed legislation is known as the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act - or DREAM Act.
Yves Gomes is now a university student in the U.S. East Coast state of Maryland, but he may soon have to leave the country. "I still want to continue with my college education and I want to be able to study here and go to medical school."
Gomes is one of thousands of young illegal immigrants who grew up in the United States and are now studying at American colleges and universities. He is doing well in his studies, but he is fighting deportation to India, a country he left with his parents when he was just 14 months old. They were deported more than a year ago.
"If I was to go back to India, I would just feel like all of that would have gone to waste, because here at least I am still able to go to college," said Gomes.
Immigration is a divisive political issue in the United States with some 11 million people in the country illegally. One element of the debate is the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16. Pending legislation known as the DREAM Act would give them a chance to become legal residents if they complete two years of college or join the military.
Milanie Schwartz, a politically conservative student at the University of Texas, explains why some Americans oppose the legislation. "We think it's unfair, students who are illegal immigrants would get a fast track to citizenship, while people who did come here legally wouldn't have those same opportunities."
"The question is legalization or not," said Jon Feere, who also opposes the DREAM Act. He is a policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington and is concerned about the act's effect on the economy. "There's a lot of unemployment in the United States right now. And there are already many legal immigrants who are already here who are desperate for those jobs."
But supporters of the DREAM Act say well educated immigrants would help the economy. Raul Hinojosa, an immigration research analyst at UCLA, said "Not letting them contribute to the economy would not only lose all the financial investment we have already made in these youth, but we would lose literally trillions of dollars of potential value added that they want and are ready to contribute to the U.S. economy."
That's exactly what Gomes wants to do - finish school and become a doctor. He said that without the DREAM Act, many students' dreams will be lost.
"They are studying at Harvard, they are studying at UCLA - the top universities - and they all have bright futures, and because of the system they are going to be told to go home, go back to a country they don't even know."
Lizeth Quinones came to the U.S. from Colombia [South America] when she was just 10 years old. Fourteen years later, she's graduating from a university with a degree in computer graphics, but worries about finding a good job because she is not a legal resident.
"I can never think of goals farther away than maybe a week because I am not even certain that after that week or after that night where I am actually going to wake up being in a jail or back in Colombia," said Quinones.
The DREAM Act has failed to win passage in Congress since it was first introduced 10 years ago. Now time is running out for passage this year, and opposition Republicans have threatened to block it. Gomes hopes that won't happen. He wants to finished school and eventually become a U.S. citizen.