By Reynold N. Mason
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, DREAM, was first introduced in 2001. If it becomes law, alien students who graduate from high school, have no criminal record and entered the U.S. before age 16 can become legal residents, if they have lived here for 5 years. They will be given the opportunity to earn conditional legal status by serving 2 years in the military or completing 2 years of college. The bill, known as the Dream Act, died last September, just before the midterm elections, but it can and should pass in the new congress despite the naysayers. But in order to shepherd this piece of humanitarian legislation through congress its proponents must display some political savvy. It was foolhardy to push Harry Reid to attach Dream to the defense authorization bill last September, when it was evident that it had no chance of passage. It may have made supporters of the bill feel good but it squandered political capital. Predictably not a single republican supported the bill. But Mr. Reid scored political points on the eve of his tough re-election fight. Hispanics, who make up more than 25 % of the population of Nevada, Mr. Reid’s home state, rewarded him with two thirds of their vote according to exit polls. This was a big factor in his re-election. Reid now owes a political debt to all those who supported his successful re-election bid. Proponents of DREAM must be sure to collect on that debt.
Will Republicans support DREAM?
Just a few days before his bruising re-election battle against Sharon Angle, Mr. Reid sat down with Jorge Ramos of Univision for an interview. When pressed on the issue, he promised to introduce DREAM in the lame duck session of congress. “We support DREAM”, he said “I just need a few republicans to help me” (The Hill 11/01/10). Republicans will control the house come January and the democrats do not have a filibuster- proof majority in the senate so political tight rope walking will be necessary. The bill has the support of most democrats, among them leaders like Dick Durbin, and Senator Schumer of New York. But now that the democratic majority in the house has been decimated, the question is, will enough republicans defect to the democratic side and back the bill?
Republicans will control the committees in the house and, come January immigration policy will in large part be in the hands of the new house speaker John Boehner, with Rep. Steven King of Ohio heading the immigration sub-committee. The republican focus has been on enforcement and border security not on a path to citizenship or legalization of those here illegally. Representative King is on record as favoring a change in birthright citizenship to keep children of illegal aliens from becoming U.S. Citizens by birth and, has voiced support for the Arizona law, SB 1070, that created a storm of controversy when it was enacted last year. But democrats who, by and large support DREAM are not entirely powerless. Senate democrats like Schumer and Durbin must lead. They along with Senator Reid must persuade their republican colleagues to back the bill. And President Obama must throw the weight of his office behind the bill. His campaign promise to push immigration reform is as yet unfulfilled.
In addition, among the newly minted batch of lawmakers who will have a say come January are, Marco Rubio, of Florida, Susanna Martinez, the first Hispanic governor of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval, governor-elect of Nevada, also Hispanic. Their states are major players in the immigration debate and they could help nudge the debate in the right direction. In key states, Hispanics constitute an increasing share of the vote, 13% in Colorado, and 38% in New Mexico, with significant voting strength in California, Nevada and Texas. The new dynamics of electoral politics in not lost on republicans. They will have to address issues of concern to Hispanics if they hope to gain control of the senate in 2012. Despite their anti-immigrant rhetoric, republicans know that there is no chance of cultivating Hispanic support unless the moderate their position on issues of concern to Hispanics. They know that the wedge issue driving the Hispanic tide in the democrats’ direction is immigration. Hispanics must use this to their advantage. They should avoid the mistake of black who vote blindly democratic. Both political parties must be made to understand that the Hispanic vote is winnable, but there must be courtship. And in order to win Hispanic support whispering sweet political nothings won’t do. They must whisper sweet DREAM.
There is hope for DREAM
The outlook for the bill is not as grim as it might appear on the surface. There are power brokers on both sides of the issue. Rep. Michael Honda of California, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus, recently told the SF Chronicle that work on Comprehensive immigration must continue. He plans to introduce an immigration bill in the next congress that will include family reunification. If they are smart, democrats like Honda can shepherd the Dream Act through congress. They must bear in mind that republicans covet the Hispanic vote and use that as leverage. They must bear in mind too that those who want enforcement and border security are not anti- immigrant nativists. It is time to stop labeling republicans as racist or anti-immigrant simply because they insist on enforcement. The Immigration and control Act of 1986, which granted amnesty to undocumented aliens, failed because in had no enforcement mechanisms, and here we are facing the issue once more as result of that defect in the law. Common sense is what will get dream passed, not grandstanding and political platitudes aimed at shoring up the Hispanic voter base.
DREAM is a social, not a political issue
Americans are fed up with our current system on piecemeal immigration laws and want something done about it. Their overwhelming support of the Arizona immigration law is an expression of frustration with the laissez- faire immigration posture of the Federal government. At least Arizona did something. Wrong or right, it was action. And that is what Americans want on the immigration question, action, not empty words aimed at the political bases of the right or the left. The problem of forgotten illegal children is not lost on Americans. But they are not likely to support the Dream Act as a stand-alone bill. They want to know that the problem is solved once and for all, and that we will not be facing a new wave of illegal immigrants who simply walk across our open borders. A recent poll by FAIR found that 69% of Americans think that immigration is an important issue and that president Obama has not been aggressive enough in enforcing our laws. Governor-elect Sandoval of Nevada, a Hispanic, supports the Arizona immigration law which allows police to ask about immigration status after they stop someone for some other infraction. He was elected in spite of his position, protests and lawsuits challenging the law notwithstanding. . And in New Mexico, governor-elect Suzanna Martinez wants to repeal the law allowing illegal aliens to obtain drivers’ licenses. She also opposes in state tuition for undocumented students. Supporters of DREAM must accept the application of our immigration laws and let the chips fall where they may. Opposing law enforcement is foolhardy and hypocritical. We cannot give cover to illegals by thwarting enforcement of our immigration laws. Bringing DREAM to the congress is crucial to the lives of young undocumented children trapped here without papers. Their dream should not be held hostage to political calculations. Some 65,000 of them graduate from high school each year. And when they do, they encounter a roadblock-- their undocumented status. These young people will become a permanent underclass consigned to the shadows of American society without the relief the bill promises. They were brought here as minors by their parents, they cannot legally work or get a driver’s license. DREAM is their only hope. “I think that it is not only the right thing to do for these students, but also the right thing to do for our country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, “In this economy, we should all be trained and prepared. These children were brought here by their parents, often as children without any choice…... America is the only country they know. They did exactly what was proposed it in their schools. Our country needs the benefit of their skills, their talent and passion”. President was correct when he said in a debate during the campaign of 2008, that these are American children for all intents and purposes. The DREAM Act is a narrow commonsense piece of legislation that would help thousands of talented children achieves their full potential by earning a college degree of serving in our military. It should become the law of the land. And it will. But its supporters will have to accept that Americans will have none of it, unless we join in supporting enforcement of our immigration laws.