Friday, December 10, 2010

Immigration Reform: DREAM Act Still Kicking!

On Wednesday December 8th, 2010 the U.S. House of Representatives (House) passed their version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act).  Originally introduced in 2001, the DREAM Act addresses the plight of young undocumented immigrants who grew up in the United States after being brought here as children by their parent(s).  The DREAM Act would reward these young people with permanent residence provided they attend college or serve at least two years in the military.

The DREAM Act was scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Thursday December 9th; however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed the vote until next week.  According to the Immigration Policy Center, the reasoning behind this decision is to bring the House version of the DREAM Act (H.R. 6497) for a vote is to speed up the process of getting the bill passed and signed into law.  The Senate has its own version of the DREAM Act which they voted to eliminate in favor of the House version. The Immigration Policy Center explains in its December 9th blog Still DREAMing: DREAM Act not Dead:

“As Senator Reid stated on the floor, his intention is to bring up the House version of DREAM which, if passed by the Senate, could go directly to the President’s desk. This avoids any need to reconcile the two versions of the bill, which is a positive for supporters of the bill, as there is precious little time remaining in the legislative session.”

Immigrant advocates, like the Immigration Policy Center see the postponement of the vote as a positive move that would benefit from the momentum created by the passage of the bill in the House.  However, many commentators remain doubtful that the bill will pass.  For instance, the Caucus, The Politics and Government Blog of the Times, highlights the difficulty that passing the DREAM Act would entail:

“Were the Senate able to win approval of the bill, it would go straight to President Obama in the final days of the 111th Congress and represent a significant win for advocates of immigration law reform.

But that outcome seems doubtful since Senate Republicans have taken a hard line against the bill...”

Republican naysayers claim that the DREAM Act is nothing short of “backdoor amnesty program” that encourages illegal immigration.  However, they fail to acknowledge that passage of this bill would not only help the U.S. deal with the undocumented population, but also benefit the U.S. economy. The DREAM Act would help to give approximately 65,000 undocumented students a path to citizenship.  In addition, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the DREAM Act would reduce deficits by about $2.2 billion and increase revenues by $1.7 billion over the 2011-2020 period.  

We must wait until next week to see if there will be enough Republican votes for the DREAM Act to pass in the Senate.  In the House Republican support for the measure was scarce; in fact of the 216 votes to pass the bill in the House, there were only 8 Republican votes.  This does not inspire me with confidence that the DREAM Act will get the bi-partisan support necessary for it to pass in the Senate.  However, I remain hopeful that this legislation will pass. I remain hopeful that our politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, will do what is right for these students and the U.S. economy.  Senator Durbin commenting on the upcoming Senate vote said it best:

“It will be a hard process and a difficult road for them to follow, but in the name of justice, in the name of fairness, give these young people a chance…”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Should undocumented students disclose their identity and status to fight for immigration reform?

This week numerous students marched to Washington, DC in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) disclosing their names and undocumented status in the United States. This DREAM Act would reward ambitious immigrant youth who want to pursue higher education or military service with a path to permanent residence.  The question is, should these young people expose themselves to the risk of deportation for the cause?

To answer this question I looked back on American history and analyzed what methods were previously utilized by advocates for a particular cause.  I was immediately drawn to the Civil Rights Movement, as many of the actions taken by immigration activists today are similar to those taken by civil rights activists past and present.  Similar to the civil rights activists these students are demonstrating courage in the face of fear and high risks.  Activists have utilized tried and true methods, like protest rallies and sit-ins, however, disclosure of undocumented immigration status is a new tactic being used by supporters of the DREAM Act.
The risk that these students face by disclosing their immigration status is incredibly high to say the least.  By being present in the U.S. without valid documentation these students can be detained and deported to their country of birth.  Moreover, under current immigration regulations, persons present in the United States unlawfully for more than one (1) year, are subject to a 10 year bar upon their departure.  Therefore, these student protesters face a real threat of being deported to a “home country” that most of them know nothing of, since they have spent the majority of their lives in the U.S.  The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office has publicly stated on numerous occasions that they focus on deporting persons with criminal backgrounds and that they do not necessarily deport all persons reported to them.  However, there is no guarantee from ICE that these students will not be placed in deportation proceedings.  In fact, three student protesters in Arizona were arrested in May and are currently in deportation proceedings.  Although some protesters in Washington, DC have been arrested for disorderly conduct, no deportation proceedings have been instituted against those protesters to date.
The strategy to put a personal face to the stories of these ambitious young immigrants is a brilliant, albeit risky, way to humanize the cause and draw media attention to an important issue.  That being said I don’t know that I would want my minor niece or nephew to take this kind of risk if they were in situations similar to these student protesters. It remains to be seen whether these students’ bravery will inspire Congress to enact the DREAM Act.

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