Can the DREAM Act Pull Through?


You might have noticed I’ve been writing a lot of posts lately about the DREAM Act legislation because I believe there’s a very narrow window to get it passed during this lame duck session. Judging from the anti-immigrant vitriol of the recent mid-term elections, Republicans are not going to support passing this legislation once they become the majority again in the House. The DREAM Act provides a path to legal residency and eventually citizenship for some undocumented university students.

Hundreds of university students over the past month have literally put their lives on the line by participating in hunger strikes and risking arrest and deportation to pass the DREAM Act. UT San Antonio student Lucy Martinez is in a wheelchair because she’s so weakened by 29 days on hunger strike.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has pledged to bring the bill up Wednesday for a vote in the Senate. A similar vote could be brought up in the House, according to aides for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (I know they’ve been pledging to bring it up for days, but maybe this time it will stick.)

In the last few weeks, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin has been doing the equivalent of legislative back flips, changing language and generally watering down the bill to make it more appealing to Republicans. The current version of the DREAM Act lowers the maximum age of eligibility to 29 from 34, tightens restrictions for those with a criminal record, preserves a ban on in-state college tuition, and requires a 10-year waiting period before students can gain permanent residency. The bill also prevents recipients from receiving health care under exchanges created by the health care law.

Still not satisfied, however, many Republicans who once supported the legislation now have cold feet. A few conservative Democrats have also joined the party of “no.”

Politico had a story yesterday that was fairly depressing about the legislation’s chances of passing in the next few days. This paragraph sums it up:

“It’s a remarkable turnaround from four years ago, when a Republican president and a Republican Congress pushed to liberalize immigration and create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But chastened by a grass-roots movement against illegal immigration, Republicans taking control of the House are lurching in the opposite direction, drafting a series of border security and enforcement bills cracking down on illegal immigration for 2011.”

The economy is crappy and people are angry. Historically, during bleak economic times Americans tend to blame everything that ails the country on immigrants and other folks on the margins of society. This time is no different. The Tea Party should be waging its war against Goldman Sachs and the financial services industry that tanked our economy. Instead they’re fixated on Mexicans on Medicaid.

Some immigrant advocates believe the tide will change again. Next time more favorably towards the DREAM Act and immigration reform.  Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told Politico he was encouraged by recent overtures to the immigrant community from possible GOP presidential contenders, such as Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush. 

“It will be a long two years with Lamar Smith and Steve King as the faces of the GOP for immigration reform,” Noorani said. “But there are countervailing forces within the conservative movement that see the politics and policy of immigration in a fundamentally different way.”

Until that tide changes, it’s a shame that thousands of kids graduating with degrees in engineering, nursing and other professions won’t be able to contribute to U.S. society in a meaningful way. Voting against the DREAM Act doesn’t solve America’s immigration dilemma. All it does is allow Congress to kick the can down the road.