When the DREAM Act was being debated in congress two years ago, the debate over immigration was still raging hot. Politicians of every stripe were playing to their base making grand pronouncements and empty promises to fix the country’s immigration system that all agree is dysfunctional. President Obama even promised to make immigration reform a priority. Yet on the federal level not one bill proposing an iota of immigration reform has been offered. Why is it that those with the power to offer a bill to improve the lot of the undocumented pay lip service but do nothing?
The answer it turns out is not all that complicated. Politicians in power want to stay in power and the ones out of power want to get their hands on the levers of power. During election campaigns democrats and republicans alike get out among the electorate and make promises. Some do so with good intentions, fully intending to deliver on their promise once in office, whether to tighten border enforcement and deport illegal immigrants, or to pass the DREAM Act and work toward immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Once in office the political calculus changes, and the chief worry is getting reelected next time around.
The Missing ingredient
The hundreds of thousands of supporters of the DREAM Act who rallied who around the country is the key. Dreamers cannot vote but as a group they are a sleeping giant. Their sheer numbers added to that of family and friends can create the critical mass to push immigration reform to the political tipping point. Politicians play the numbers game. They are adept at counting votes and they will not be able to discount dreamers and their support network without risking their reelection. There are few places in America where non citizens can vote. In the meantime, Dreamers' strength is in their numbers. No politician has the audacity to propose sanctions against Dreamers because a backlash would be certain. Americans want relief for those brought when they were too young to have a say.
Illegal immigrants in many instances enjoy the same rights as citizens; they are entitled to the same rights if arrested, their children have a right to a public school education; illegal aliens are protected by the fifth and fourteenth amendment from deprivation of property, life or liberty without due process of law. Resident aliens cannot be barred from state civil service and cannot be kept from applying for admission to the bar. Dreamers cannot vote but there are avenues of attack to bring pressure on politicians and galvanize the sympathetic but silent majority who support their cause.
In places like California and other border states where minority populations are fast becoming the majority, just what it means to be a resident, legal or not, may soon be different. As the law presently stands foreigners cannot vote, they cannot contribute money to candidates and they cannot spent money advocating for the election of candidates. But those restrictions do not foreclose the possibility of influencing elections.
Getting into office and staying there means getting votes. And often constituents who vote based on a single issue, often lack sufficient numbers to elect their candidate with just their votes. So they must reach out to other groups whose interests are not adverse to form coalitions to get candidates who favor their cause into office. It is not news that the vast majority of Hispanics want to see immigration with some kind of amnesty. That’s natural because the largest immigrant group is Hispanic and have relatives and friends stuck in the immigration pipeline. Hispanics who supported President Obama were joined by blacks and white youth to make his election possible. But standing alone Hispanics were not able to force the president to deliver on his promise.
Dreamers and their supporters must mobilize, team up and form coalitions and, in this election year, get out there and keep the issue on the front burner forcing candidates to commit to a position. There is strength in numbers.