WASHINGTON – Top Senate Democrats on Wednesday reintroduced the DREAM Act, a proposal that would grant legal status to children of unauthorized immigrants if they attend college or join the military and show strong moral character.

The measure was unveiled on one day after President Barack Obama gave a major speech backing comprehensive immigration reform. The plan was announced at a Capitol Hill press conference held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

"They were brought to the United States as children," Durbin said. "They grew up in this country. They went to school every day with their hand over their heart and pledged allegiance to the American flag. The only flag they know."

"This is not just a piece of legislation," he added. "This is a matter of justice."

The DREAM Act's path to legal residency also requires that beneficiaries entered the U.S. before turning 15, lived for five continuous years and graduated from high school. The Senate Democrats told stories about model students whose futures are uncertain because of their undocumented status.

"The DREAM Act makes economic sense for our country," Reid said, adding that it "would also strengthen our national security" by boosting military recruitment. "It's good for our country in so many ways."

Republicans have roundly rejected the idea, demanding more enforcement before they entertain any changes to immigration laws. Tea party groups are fighting the proposal. Opponents of the plan -- including some Democrats -- fret that it exonerates some who broke the law and may encourage people to bring their children to the U.S. illegally.

Politically, reestablishing their support for the measure will boost Democrats' standing among Hispanics, a growing voting bloc that strongly supports the plan, and which has been discouraged by the failure to pass immigration reform.

The DREAM Act passed the Democratic-led House last year but was struck down by the Senate 55-41 on a procedural vote in December. It faces much steeper odds today, as Republicans control the House and have a stronger presence in the Senate.

"I have faith that things will change and we can get some Republicans to help," Reid said.

A spokesman for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the GOP's point man on immigration, did not immediately return a request for comment.

A CNN poll found last December that 54 percent of Americans support the DREAM Act.

Image via SenatorDurbin, Creative Commons licensed