DREAM Act up for vote in Congress

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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The DREAM Act comes up this week in Congress, and prospects are not good.

Senate Majority Harry Reid—who won a new term earlier this month largely on a wave of votes from the Hispanic community—has promised to bring the Dream Act as a “stand-alone” bill, according to Politico. President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have agreed to push it before the lame-duck session calls it quits. Only one Republican Senator, Dick Lugar of Indiana, publicly supports the bill, while Tea Party favorites are organizing against it.

The Dream Act would extend temporary legal status to undocumented students who were brought to this country before they turned 16, have graduated from U.S. high school or colleges, and have passed a criminal check. Those who qualify will have had to be in the country at least five years before enactment (since 2005) and be under 35 years old. The same opportunity extends to those who volunteer for military service. The bill, if enacted, would include to an estimated 700,000. Eventually they will be able to become U.S. citizens.

The GOP objections—aside from not wanting the Democrats to get anything out of the lame duck session—revolve around their plans to introduce more restrictive legislation when they take over the House. The new chairs of House Judiciary and its immigration subcommittee intend to deny birth-right (automatic citizenship) to the children born here to undocumented parents. They have no sympathy for the undocumented students.

A white paper is being circulated by Sen. Jeff Sessions, who will take over as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s replete with overstatement—for example, claiming 1.2 million would qualify—and outright scare tactics—for example, that the law would qualify criminals. (See Politico.) The conservative Heritage Foundation is also circulating a similar report.

What are the prospects for passage? Not good, but it could make it. It all depends on GOP votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Already one Democratic senator Don Nelson of Nebraska said he will not vote to bring it up. 

But the elections are over and some senators find the Tea Party distasteful and are concerned about the impact of nativist rhetoric on Hispanic voters, so there may be Republican votes.

It’s a fairness issue anyway: Is it fair to punish young people for a decision, even if unlawful, over which they had no control? Is it fair to expel talented people, educated by tax-payers expense, to a country they do not know? The Democrats might chip away at some features of the bill to gain some GOP support—for example, lowering the age limit from 35 years to 30. One popular measure might be to allow states to deny in-state tuition or other student benefits to those in the program.