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California is home to 26 percent of an estimated 2.1 million young illegal immigrants who could earn legal status with the proposed federal DREAM Act, according to a new study by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The study released this month by the nonpartisan research center uses data from the 2006 and 2008 federal Current Population Survey, along with 2000 Census information to estimate the size of this population of children and young adults.

California is home to by far the greatest number - 553,000 - of potential beneficiaries of the proposal, the study found. The study puts Texas in second place, with 258,000, or 12 percent, followed by Florida, with 192,000 or 9 percent; New York with 146,000 or 7 percent; and Arizona with 114,000 or 5 percent.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act, was first introduced in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Durbin and Rep. Howard Berman, D-North Hollywood, reintroduced the proposal last year and interest in it was rekindled recently with President Obama's speech calling for immigration reform.

The fate of undocumented young adults has also become a point of debate in California's gubernatorial race. Republican candidate Meg Whitman favors ending a 2001 state law that allows undocumented California high school graduates to attend public universities and pay in-state tuition rates but receive no financial aid.

The federal DREAM Act would create a path to legal status for young adults under 35 who arrived in the United States before age 16 and graduated from high school here and have clean records. Beneficiaries could apply for conditional legal status that would last for six years and require them to complete at least two years of higher education or military service.

If they maintain clean records and complete academic or military requirements, beneficiaries could receive legal permanent residency.

The Migration Policy Institute study estimates that nationwide about 726,000 young adults would qualify right now for conditional legal status. Roughly 114,000 of those young adults already have at least two-year associate degrees.

Another 934,000 potential beneficiaries are still under 18 and could become eligible to benefit from the DREAM Act if they complete high school. Another 489,000 people between 18 and 34 could benefit but lack a high school diploma or GED.

The authors of the study estimated that only about 38 percent of this population of 2.1 million would likely achieve legal residency through the DREAM Act. Many would face problems because they lack high school diplomas, speak limited English or can't afford college tuition.



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