WASHINGTON — US Education Secretary Arne Duncan Thursday pressed lawmakers to start debating a proposed law that would allow children of illegal immigrants to go to US universities.
Duncan said he hoped lawmakers will "start debate and ultimately pass" the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act during the lame duck session of Congress which began this week.
If the DREAM Act becomes law, each year some 55,000 youngsters who came to the United States illegally as children or who were born here to undocumented immigrant parents, would be allowed to go to university after completing high school.
Under current US immigration law, illegal immigrant youngsters cannot attend university even if they completed elementary, middle and high school in the United States and have been offered college scholarships.
Duncan denied he was trying to ram the act through Congress during the lame-duck session, in which President Barack Obama's Democratic Party is still majority in both houses -- in January, the House of Representatives switches to Republican control.
"I don't think about whether it's this Congress or next Congress," Duncan told reporters.
"This is as good a time as any, and given the urgency and the desperate need to have a better educated and knowledge-based workforce, I think we should move now."
Passing the act would put the United States on track to reclaim its position as the country with the largest percentage of college graduates per capita, and would boost the economy, said the education secretary.
Obama has set 2020 as a goal for the country to regain the status it held a generation ago, when it had the highest percentage of university graduates in the world, Duncan added.
The United States currently ranks ninth in the world in terms of university graduates per population ratio.
"I'm convinced we have to educate our way to a better economy. We have to again lead the world in college graduates," said Duncan.
"We need folks who can function well in a knowledge economy, we need folks who can be productive citizens, and we have a vast untapped pool here who are being denied that opportunity," he said.
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