By Reynold N. Mason JD
Atlanta, Dec. 29, 2010 When the DREAM act died in the senate earlier this month, the hopes of thousands of young people were dashed. Emotions among immigration activists ran the whole gamut, from disappointment to anger. The law held the promise of a path to citizenship for young people brought to the country illegally, when they were too young to know better. No one blames these young people for the plight in which they now find themselves. It was not of their making. And most Americans agree that they should have relief. Opinion Research Corp. in a poll conducted in June of last year found strong support for the bill among members of the general public. 70 % of those polled expressed support for the bill. In 2004, the last time some of the senators who voted down the bill were up for reelection, the DREAM act had the support of just 12% of Americans. Today, only 6% of Americans strongly oppose the DREAM act. And 60% of republicans support the bill as well.
Don’t blame republicans
After the Senate vote on the Dream Act, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza issued a warning to the republicans who voted against the measure. "The most immediate repercussions are that – particularly those members in states where the Latino population has political influence – they'd better watch out," said Clarissa Martinez, NCLR's director of immigration and national campaigns. "I am talking about persons like Hutchison and Cornyn of Texas, Lemieux in Florida, Kirk in Illinois”. The bill was defeated 55-41, just 5 votes shy of the 60 needed for cloture. But five Democrats voted against DREAM on cloture; Max Baucus, Kay Hagan, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, and Jon Tester. (West Virginia's Joe Manchin did not vote.) Their vote would have put the bill over the top.
The president ran on a platform, one plank of which was comprehensive immigration reform. But after the bruising battle over healthcare, neither he nor congressional democrats had the will to push DREAM. They let slip the best chance they ever had to pass the bill because the feared the political repercussions. They deserted their supporters even as they wielded control of the house and senate for two years. But with nothing to fear after they had been soundly beaten at the polls, the democratic lame ducks rushed the bill to placate their base. Harry Reid, in particular, had a promise to keep. He had vowed to bring the bill to a vote in the lame duck session. The expressions of anger and rage are misdirected. Democrats bear the responsibility for the defeat of the DREAM act, not republicans. In fact, the bill would have passed the senate if Harry Reid had been able to hold together his own members who voted against the bill.
Astute observers of the political process are flummoxed. The DREAM act had the support of the American people, the business and labor sector, religious groups and the world’s most powerful man, president Obama. Add to that, the backing of media heavyweights Rupert Murdoch, George Soros and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and anyone would have believed that passage of the bill was assured. Major philanthropic organizations, Ford Foundation, Carnegie and the MacArthur foundations threw their considerable influence behind the bill. So what happened?
Backlash caused by immigration activists
Americans are not anti-immigrant. They are well aware that theirs is a country of immigrants. But let’s face it. In 1986 Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to illegal immigrants, but the border remained porous, and today we are faced once again with the very problem we thought we solved in 1986. As supportive as they are of legal immigration, Americans wants to staunch the unrestricted flow of illegal immigrants into the country. The overwhelming majority of Americans support enforcement and oppose amnesty. 78 % oppose legalizing illegal’s already in the country, estimated to be 12 million. (Pulse Opinion Research. 9/2009). 77% want those who hire illegal’s arrested, while 64 % support surprise raids on businesses suspected of hiring illegals. (Rasmussen Reports. 6/2009). Even more telling, 78 % of Americans want a reduction in the numbers of illegal immigrants (CNN/Opinion Research 10/2009). 74 % of those polled said they felt the government is not doing enough to keep illegal’s from entering the country. (ABC News Poll, 4/2009); and a majority felt it was very important for the government to impose border security and reduce illegal immigration.
Yet, in the face of the expressed sentiments of the vast majority of the public, immigration activists are engaged in a scorched earth blitz against any effort to retake control of our borders and enforce laws already passed by congress. They have sued to block the Arizona immigration law that requires people to carry proof of legal status; they have brought suit to stop that state from penalizing businesses that hire illegal workers; they have sued to prevent states from using e-verify, a federal program that can determine whether a person is authorized to work; they have voiced opposition to the president’s stepped up enforcement and accuse him of pandering to appease republicans by setting new records for deportations last year. Their game plan is to tie up in court, every legitimate effort to clamp down on illegal immigration.
Americans are sick of the double standard whereby immigration activists challenge laws aimed at clamping down on illegal immigration, but applaud sanctuary cities where police are prohibited from assisting federal immigration authorities in making arrests. They blast cities that cooperate with the federal authorities in checking people’s status when stopped for a traffic infraction, but applaud renegade cities that undercut and hinder federal policies. Every American and legal resident is issued a social security number that is unique. Yet immigrantion activists are opposed to the Social Security Administration issuing “no match letters” when a worker’s social security number does match up with its records. There is no legitimate policy reason for opposing these commonsense measures.
In 1989, San Francisco passed the "City of Refuge" Ordinance, which prohibits city employees from assisting federal agents in making immigration arrests, unless required by federal or state law or a warrant. It has been known as a sanctuary city ever since. But even in this so-called sanctuary city, immigrants say they are living in fear. A year ago, in what immigrant rights groups saw as a step backward, Mayor Gavin Newsom changed the city’s policy toward undocumented youth. In July 2008, he began allowing undocumented minors with criminal records to be turned over to immigration authorities. A week after suing Arizona and arguing that its immigration law creates a patchwork of rules, the Obama administration said it would not go after so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with the federal government, because they are not as bad as a state that “actively interferes” "For the Justice Department to suggest that they won't take action against those who passively violate the law, who fail to comply with the law is absurd," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and chief author of the 1996 immigration law.
The mood of the country has changed. And while Americans would like to see relief granted to Dreamers, they will no longer acquiesce in the de facto amnesty. The defeat of the Dream Act in the lame-duck session slams the lid for this Congress on any meaningful repair of the immigration system. And the next Congress will be harsher on immigration than this one. President Barack Obama and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met at the White House last week to discuss the bleak future of immigration reform in Congress. Both sides agreed that amnesty is likely dead for the next two years, but the president said that he would veto any immigration enforcement legislation. The prospects for immigration relief looks bleak indeed, and continued mindless opposition to common sense enforcement initiatives will turn Americans, now sympatric to DREAM, against the bill altogether. It is high time immigration activists change strategy and adopt a position on the issue of immigration that is in harmony with the wishes of the American public.