The Dream Act: Supporters had better wake up
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The Dream Act: Supporters had better wake up

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November 14, 2010, 10:19 am
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 By Reynold N. Mason JD

 

Atlanta. Nov, 14, 2010 - There are just a few weeks left before the 111th congress adjourns. And someone needs to inform Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the current leaders of the house and senate of that little fact. Pelosi's reign as legislator-in-chief lording over her minions of house democrats ends come January when the 112th congress is gaveled into session by the new power broker John Boehner. Yet she and Mr. Reid are rushing helter skelter to bring the DREAM Act up for a vote in the little time remaining.  Like students in the last five minutes of a final examination, they are attempting to erase and correct answers on the answer sheet even after the proctor has announced the end of the examination and is about to collect the answer sheets.

They have had time to consider and act on DREAM and Comprehensive Immigration reform, and like the unprepared student, they have failed. Mr. Reid, last September, in the heat of a re-election fight that many thought he would not survive,   attached the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill. It was a political ploy designed to earn him credits with Hispanics in his district. It worked. He won re-election with two-thirds of the Hispanics giving him their backing.  His introducing DREAM again in the lame duck session of a congress that has been reconfigured by voters is but a cynical “thank you” nod in the direction of Hispanics to whom he promised on an election eve broadcast of Univision, that he would bring the act up for a vote before congress adjourns.

An exercise in futility

Dream supporters should be concerned. Had Mr. Reid had the political courage, he might have done a year ago, when he had control of the senate and had a democratic congress and president who had promised support for immigration reform, what he proposes to do now, when it is but an exercise in futility. Pushing the bill now, is like serving a cold dish at the supper table. Those who are hungry may eat it, but it is much less palatable. Ill-conceived political grandstanding such as this will doom the DREAM act. 

The DREAM act is a commonsense piece of legislation that ought to become the law of the land.  And this could happen, but those pushing the bill must change their approach to the entire immigration issue. It’ time to face facts.  Democrats who, by and large, support the bill squandered their best opportunity to enact DREAM in this congress. Their political will was debilitated by the healthcare fight and a golden opportunity was lost, perhaps for good.

Republicans rule

Republicans will rule the house in the 112th congress and for all intents and purposes, they will literally rule the senate a well.  Those democrats who managed to beat back the republican assault on the senate will lack any incentive to push DREAM.  Twenty-three of their number face re-election in just two years. Having witnessed the “shellacking” their colleagues suffered at the hands of republicans in November, these democrats are not likely to touch any hot button issues. 

The political calculus will be a major factor for any democrat who must face voters in 2012.  DREAM backers must bear this in mind.  Political survival is the raison d' etre of the lawmaker, so democrats in moderate states such as Missouri, Nebraska and Montana who are facing re-election will likely take a pass on DREAM. And, let’s not forget Joe Manchin of West Virginia,   He won election in a squeaker by putting as much distance as he could between himself and president Obama, even suing the Obama administration over coal removal in West Va. He too faces voters in two years.

The cold hard facts

The 112th congress will have newly elected lawmakers who are outspoken opponents of immigration reform that includes amnesty, or as democrats call it, “a path to citizenship”.  Pro-immigration lawmakers would have to contend with the likes of Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, who as mayor of Hazleton, Pa. became a national cult figure to anti- immigration lobby by proposing a bill that would have made it unlawful to rent to illegal aliens. 

Barletta, in all likelihood would be joined by a fair number of tea party congressmen and women who are hawkish on immigration.  What makes the outlook for comprehensive immigration even more grim is the prospect that the immigration subcommittee will likely be headed by Rep. Steven King of Ohio.  He favors changing the birthright citizenship law to deny U.S. citizenship to children of illegal aliens, and he supports the notorious Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, that will allow authorities to demand papers of persons stopped for any infraction of law. 

The notorious words of Harry Reid “I don’t see how anyone of Hispanic heritage can be a republican” rings hollow.  On November 2, 2010 republican Marco Rubio, of Florida was elected to the senate. He is Hispanic. And so were governors elect of New Mexico, Suzanna Martinez and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, both Hispanics and both republicans. They both support the Arizona immigration law and other measures considered anti-immigrant.  Ms. Martinez proposes to deny driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.  Certainly, the label “anti-immigrant” or “racist” will no longer stick.  In congressional races too, the tide swept into office lawmakers who are hawkish on immigration. In, Texas 23rd, for example, which shares a long border with Mexico, Quico Canseco unseated pro- immigration congressman Ciro Rodriguez.  Mr. Canseco is republican and opposes amnesty for illegal aliens and supports deportation of criminal aliens. (Wikipedia.org/Canseco) This pattern of pro-immigration democrats going down in defeat to republicans hawkish on immigration, played out in congressional races across the country. Those supporting DREAM and Comprehensive immigration reform  must take heed.  Hispanic voters are not single issue robots.  In fact, Pew Hispanic center, in a recent survey found that immigration ranked 5th in importance out of 7 issues among registered Hispanic voters. A post-election survey by the Center for Immigration Studies, found that Hispanic support for republicans with expressed anti immigration stances was surprisingly strong. In 2006 and 2008 republicans garnered 29% and 30% of the Hispanic vote respectively. This election followed the same trend. Meg Whitman in California won 29 %, Carly Fiorina 28% and Sharon Angle 30% of the Hispanic vote. Even Arizona governor Jan Brewer, the force behind the tough, notorious anti-immigrant law, won 28% of the Hispanic vote.  And despite all of his pro-immigration pronouncements, Senator Harry Reid won 68% of the Hispanic vote this year; in 2004 he won 67 %.  It is time those who support immigration reform face the new reality and plot a new course towards immigration reform. All is lost if they should fail to do so.

               Next in the series; new strategies to win passage of Dream.

Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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