After Senator Harry Reid’s announcement Wednesday that he will bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor in the lame duck as a stand-alone bill, DREAM supporters gathered in Washington yesterday to plead their case. Yesterday’s events signaled the beginning of yet another intense campaign to pass the DREAM Act—a bill that would offer a path to legal status to those who have graduated from high-school, stayed out of trouble, and plan to attend college or serve in the U.S. military for at least two years. Although the DREAM Act has been backed by both Democrats and Republicans for nearly a decade, it has never become law—thanks, in part, to some members of Congress who would rather make political hay out of a piece of legislation that seeks to help students who, as outgoing Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart said, “are being punished for decisions not made by them.” This time around, however, the DREAM Act may represent more than just an up-or-down vote on a piece of immigration legislation, but rather, a true test of American values.
At a press conference at the National Press Club this week, America’s Voice convened a group of DREAM-eligible students and national leaders to discuss the prospects and urgency for reform. DREAM-eligible youth discussed the extent of their efforts to convince Congress to support the DREAM Act, including a ten-day-old hunger strike by students and a professor at the University of Texas, as well as other protests which have resulted in arrests.
Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) said that if DREAM gets the debate it deserves in Congress, it will win on its merits. He also asked rhetorically, “Why would you oppose a bill that allows us to benefit from the education we have already given these kids?”
Dr. Raul Hinojosa of UCLA discussed his recent report on the economic benefits of DREAM Act legislation, noting that that the total earnings of DREAM Act beneficiaries over the course of their working lives would be between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion. These earnings would also be subject to all relevant taxes. Dr. Hinojosa added “Why wouldn’t we allow them to pay the U.S. back for all it’s given them?”
Even the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, spoke in favor of the DREAM Act yesterday, noting his and President Obama’s strong support. Secretary Duncan promised that the President will make personal calls to members of Congress—as he has done in the past—and is willing to spend political capital to get it done.
But just because the President, cabinet members, leading economists, Democrats and Republicans, the military and thousands of students and advocates think passing the DREAM Act is a no-brainer, it doesn’t guarantee the bill’s passage. Just yesterday, one-time immigration reform supporter, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), said that despite all the support, the Dream Act will not pass by itself—and that its passage would only provide an incentive for more illegal border crossings in the future. He went on to argue that we must secure the border first before moving forward on legalization.
First of all, the DREAM Act is part of the Department of Defense’s 2010-2012 Strategic Plan, so it’s difficult to understand how the DREAM Act undermines our security. Secondly, the DREAM Act only applies to students who were brought to the United States at least five years ago, so again, it’s also difficult to understand how, exactly, it would encourage a “run to the border” strategy.
As usual, the reasons for opposing DREAM shift with the political winds, but the underlying objective—to polarize the public on immigration—does not. The next vote on DREAM will be viewed as a litmus test, but not on whether one supports border security or comprehensive immigration reform. It will be a test of whether Senators support education, hard work, and the American dream. Hiding behind the other, bigger, complicated issues surrounding our immigration crisis merely clouds the issue. With so little time left, nuances are a luxury that most voters won’t understand or agree with. The complexity of our broken immigration system shouldn’t be a convenient excuse for salvaging some reform in the 111th Congress.
Photo by DreamActivist.