By Gregory Wallace
November 28, 2012
Heading into a second term at the helm of the education department, Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday that the largest missed opportunity of President Barack Obama's first term was the lack of movement on an immigration reform measure.
"I think there's a moment of opportunity on both sides to get some soul searching maybe a little more on the Republican side," Duncan said. "We have to do something about immigration reform and one of my ... biggest disappointments of the first four years is that we didn't get the DREAM Act passed."
The measure passed a procedural vote in the then-Democratic-led House when advanced in 2010 but was blocked in the Senate.
The act would grant legal status to some young illegal immigrants who choose to continue their education or enter the military.
Some Republicans have characterized it as amnesty, though others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, have said the GOP should advance their own version of the program. Rubio said he was putting on hold plans to propose such a measure when Obama issued an executive order this year which paused deportation for some who would be covered by the DREAM Act.
Duncan suggested Wednesday at an education summit in Washington organized by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's foundation that the results of this year's election, where exit polls showed Obama winning overwhelmingly among voters who were Latino, opened a window for renewed progress on a measure such as the DREAM Act.
"The fact that we allow so many children who have worked so hard and played by the rules and gotten great grades and become community leaders, that we slam shut the door of opportunity is absolutely insane," Duncan said at the Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform.
"These are the future leaders, job creators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and so I think there's a moment of opportunity literally now, in the next couple of months for Congress to do the right thing and pass it."
Duncan was previously put forward by the Obama administration as a leading proponent of the measure.
But there are other issues on Congress' plate today, such as the fiscal cliff.
In his remarks and answers to questions from education policy makers from around the country, he also spoke about the importance for early childhood education, implementation of higher standards in K-12 education, and "affordable and accessible college."
And should there be movement on the DREAM Act or an alternative, it would come as Latinos are accessing higher education in greater numbers.
"In the past two years we've seen a 25 percent increase in Hispanic enrollment in college. That is a huge jump. We've got to make sure that its not just enrollments, that its graduation rates," Duncan said.
"There's a lot to be hopeful about, a lot to be optimistic about and I think we have an opportunity together with something like the dream act passing to transform educational opportunity for Latino communities," he added.