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Homeland Sec. Secretary urges passage of DREAM Act

The DREAM Act will strengthen the U.S. economy and its military and allow the Department of Homeland Security to focus its enforcement resources on removing "dangerous criminal aliens" from the country, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on a conference call, urging Congress to pass the legislation.

Saying the nation's immigration system "does not work the way it ought to," Napolitano said passing the DREAM Act would not be a substitute for much-needed comprehensive immigration reform, but it would allow young people who were not responsible for immigrating illegally to this country and who want to go to college or join the military to adjust their immigration status and provide a path to citizenship without fear of deportation. This would be possible only after a vigorous background check.

"The laws themselves need to be updated," she said. "They need to be updated and reformed. One of the reforms that can take place is the Dream Act which takes out of the universe of those, as it were, who would be subject to enforcement action, it takes out of that group those who are the least culpable."

The White House said the the DREAM Act would establish "a lengthy and rigorous process" for young people who grew up in the United States to obtain legal status by either pursuing a higher education or by serving in the U.S. armed forces and added that it was written by both Republicans and Democrats and had "long enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle, passing twice out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan votes."

While passing the bill is high on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's list of priorities, it faces tough odds in the coming weeks as Democrats and Republicans try to strike deals on pressing issues from funding the government, to ratifying the New START arms treaty with Russia to extending the Bush tax cuts.

Napolitano said DHS had removed more illegal immigrants from the country over the past two years that an any time in American history, focusing especially on criminals.

"We have led an historic push to find and deport criminal aliens," she said. "The United States is now deporting a record number of illegal aliens convicted of criminal offenses. These include 195,000 just in FY2010, which was a 70 percent increase over the last year of the previous administration in FY2008."

She said the Dream Act would allow the department to prioritize to a greater extent the nation's immigraiton laws including those associated with smuggling drugs and other human beings, which referred to as enforcing immigration law in a way that "makes the most sense."