Rubio Proposal Overlooks Obstacles Ahead For DREAMers

Though it has yet to be introduced in Congress, Senator Marco Rubio’s alternative to the DREAM Act received an appraisal from the Washington Post this week, which noted that it represents an effort to shake the hard-line anti-immigrant sentiment voiced by many leading conservative politicians. The editorial also noted, however, that the outlines of his proposal promote what’s tantamount to “permanent second-class status.”

Rubio has attempted to sidestep the controversial issue of legalization—a key component of the DREAM Act—by arguing that Congress can give undocumented youth “nonimmigrant” legal status and then let them find their own path to citizenship. Rubio states:

All this does is award a nonimmigrant visa to these kids who find themselves in this very difficult circumstance. At some point in the future, they would have no more or no less rights than anybody else in the world. They wouldn’t be getting any preferential treatment.

The trouble is, fending for yourself on the road to citizenship is difficult, if not impossible these days.

While we can’t precisely critique a bill that does not yet exist, the buzz words Rubio uses—including “nonimmigrant,” “being treated like everyone else,” and “no special treatment”—reflect a shallow understanding of our current immigration system.

To understand how these terms play out in real life, it’s important to understand a few things about our immigration laws. As we have noted many times in the past, there is no actual “line” that eager young people can simply join to become lawful permanent residents (which is the necessary precursor to becoming citizens).  Instead, without the protections and careful drafting that have gone into the DREAM Act, immigrant youth may find themselves in a dead-end status that ultimately limits their rights and opportunities.

Also, the term “nonimmigrant” refers to foreign nationals who will presumably return to their home country rather than settle in the United States when their visa expires.  While some visas allow nonimmigrants to live and work here for extended periods, the nonimmigrant scheme assumes that you aren’t planning on making the United States your home. Historically, nonimmigrant visas were never intended to give individuals life-long status in the United States.

From this perspective, DREAMers are the opposite of “nonimmigrants.”  For many, the United States is the only country they know. They don’t have another home to return to, and they hope to become citizens of the country they’ve lived in for most of their lives.  Thus, from the start, Senator Rubio’s proposal undermines the unique characteristics of DREAMers and ignores the whole reason the DREAM Act has become necessary—a generation of children are growing into young adults in this country with no mechanism for remaining permanently and fully participating in the country they love.

Moreover, treating DREAMers “like everyone else” would dump them into an immigration system that already has trouble keeping up with demand.  Because most lawful permanent resident visas, or “green cards” as they are commonly known, are tied to a family or employment relationship, DREAMers will have to find a way to qualify for the small number of available slots.  For example, only 140,000 employment visas are available annually, and it is the employer, not the employee, who decides whether to sponsor an employee for a green card. On the family side, there are no caps for marriage to a United States citizen of the opposite sex. But while some DREAMers would have the option of marrying an American, it seems unlikely that Congress would want to sanction marriage as the only guaranteed way for DREAMers to become citizens.

Furthermore, even if a DREAMer qualifies for a green card, those who entered the country unlawfully could face numerous barriers to becoming permanent residents. For example, under existing law, they would have to leave the country to obtain a permanent visa—and if they were unlawfully present for more than six months after their eighteenth birthday, they would face a three- to ten-year bar on returning.  This has been a nightmare for many families, and without the DREAM Act, immigrant youth will have to struggle through waivers, hardship claims, and extra costs associated with fixing these problems, and even then, with no guarantee of permanent status.

There are countless other problems that follow from a system that sidesteps permanent legal status. Questions about expiration of the visa, renewals, costs, work authorization, age limits, age at the time of entry—all the details that make crafting a program that meets the specific needs of a unique group—are not part of the public discussion of Rubio’s bill. These details matter a great deal when determining whether legislation is workable, can attract sponsors and votes, and has any chance of passing. By minimizing the unique issues of DREAMers and proposing to treat them like everybody else, Senator Rubio’s proposal diminishes the likelihood that it will be effective.

It’s understandable that some DREAM Act supporters are willing to look beyond these problems because Senator Rubio is holding out the promise of legal status and putting a lot of effort in discussing it publicly. Being free from the threat of deportation is no small victory, but the trade-offs must be carefully weighed.  If Rubio’s legislative solution triumphs, Congress would institutionalize a kind of legal limbo and second-class citizenship which is not in the best interests of our country.

It’s encouraging that Senator Rubio has taken on this issue, and we hope that it will bring more voices to the table. At the same time, any proposal that rests on the premise that all is right with the current immigration process is being built on very shaky ground.

Photo by j valas

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  • David

    This is a very articulated article that really take immigration with preciseness and an explanation and examination of all the details that often times people simply overlook. However, I was quite surprised that the author of this article used age based restrictions that are absent from this proposal as something that belong in the bill in order to give it a “Dream Act” feel. It is precisely those kind of restrictions that state that the only person qualified for the Dream Act had to enter the US prior to the age of 16 so long as the individual undocumented already nonimmigrant is under the age of 35 which I think they now farther limited to the mid 20s, if I am not mistaken; But it is this particular restriction that makes the current Dream Act proposal a continued Nightmare to many immigrants who “ages out” or arrived “a bit too late” in the USA and that in some instances even have American Family members that can sponsor them, something most so called Dreamers may not even have as suggested by this article. So essentially we will be creating by Dreamact two distinct immigrant communities. Those who entered the US prior to age 16 illegally and may be here for less time with no family ties and a promise of a brighter future through cheap and affordable higher education or the choice of military service vs. those who entered the US Legally but sadly for them are Not married to US Citizens though they have other American Family members that may even depend on them for support (i.e. an older parent) and in fact they may already poses a College degree and even High School diploma from this Country, which they managed to obtain in their own without any aid from State or Federal government… But may be “too old” for Dream Act simply becaused they may have ages out while say living in the US the majority of their lives from say age 17 to age 36 where they may be today… And I don’t stop the criticism there because what about all those who entered the US legally, then became illegal due to the expiration of their visa, and married for green card through money and then divorced the so called “spouse” after obtaining legal immigration status and a speedy track to US Citizenship through the process of Naturalization – one of three years vs. the 5 that non-married legal immigrants have to wait in order to become American – something that contrary to belief and thought actually have lots of benefit such as access to certain jobs, US passport, and the right to Vote….. So this is another form of Discrimination based on a marital status that is enshrined and supported by our current immigration laws that create a paradox: one where a person who entered the US legally at the age of Seventeen (attention Dreamers! who must have not heard about the significance of age 21 in US immigration laws) and may have lived in the US the majority of their lives with an American Parent may be Deportable while a young adult who entered the US legally at say, the age of 24, then overstay their visa and become illegal, and when they are 27 decide to marry someone will get a work authorization, social security number, and a Driver’s license with State ID, followed shortly thereafter by a Green Card and 3 years later a reward for breaking the law and divorcing his or her sponsoring spouse that they can sue under our civil laws: American Citizenship. Meanwhile, the Unmarried individual we discussed earlier is still illegal and has to struggle with problems described in this article and come up with many thousands of Dollars in attorney and other fees. Shame!!!! Something must change. Families First, then all the rest, and until that happens and until true Justice, fairness, and equality will also apply to our Naturalization system of rules and laws we will not have an immigration system one could be proud of. I hope this helps in clarifying some of the hidden issues from the public and legislative eyes when it comes to immigration. May God bless America and those who will be brave enough to take on these matters and adjust our laws accordingly. Amen!

  • Leena

    I think the Dream Act will highly cause injustice to those children who are aging out due to the backlog of some countries like India and who are highly qualifilied and have their dreams to contribute to the economy of United States which believes in eqality. They have the potential to come legally and join their families who are Lpr and have sponsored them but are waiting anxiously to at least get a student visa which is also being denied when they are telling the truth of immigrant intent. What type of laws are this which supports those who come illegally and lie during the visa interview that they will return back to their country but stay their illegally. Please amend the immigration law to give justice to spouses and children of Lpr to unite with their family without waiting.

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