As the immigration debate begins to heat up again in front of the 2012 presidential election campaign, congressional Democrats reintroduced the proposed DREAM Act, long-sought legislation that would provide children who were brought to the U.S. illegally a route to citizenship if they pursue a college education or military service.
Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Harry Reid, D-Nev., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and 30 others reintroduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act May 11, 2011, promising a vote on the bill, even though the legislation fell short of passage in 2010 after most senate Republicans and a small number of Democrats opposed its advance.
The bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., who has introduced it every year since 2001.
“We’re not giving up,” said Durbin, the bill’s longtime champion in the Senate. “This is not just a piece of legislation, it is a matter of justice,” he said.
Under the legislation, youth who came to the United States when they were 15 or younger, have been in the country continually at least five years, present “good moral character,” graduate from high school or obtain an equivalency diploma, and complete two years of college or military service in good standing would qualify.
Backers of the proposed act say that it would provide a path for more educated young people into the military and workforce, generate billions in tax revenues and give a break to young people who were not complicit in their illegal entry into the country.
Opponents of the measure cite a variety of reasons for their opposition. Some label the DREAM Act as amnesty that would only encourage further illegal immigration. Others state that the DREAM Act, though worthy legislation, should only be enacted as part of comprehensive immigration reform, which should focus on border security before considering paths to legal status for illegal immigrants.
The DREAM Act’s shot at passage is slim, pointed out Mary Pivec, an attorney with Keller and Heckman in Washington, D.C. “Its provisions need to be wrapped into a comprehensive reform bill, which also would have no chance of passage in this Congress,” Pivec told SHRM Online.
Because of political realities, Pivec sees no viable short-term solution with respect to undocumented immigrant minors.
“The Obama administration shows no sign of changing its removal policies with respect to these young people. They believe they cannot be seen as soft on enforcement if there is to be any hope of passing comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., agreed that the DREAM Act’s chances of passage are slim to none.
“While the DREAM Act has seemingly humanitarian aims, it is really a political gimmick to push for a mini-amnesty for those here in the U.S. illegally,” Jena Baker McNeill, a senior policy analyst at Heritage, told SHRM Online. “We learned from 1986 [the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the United States before 1982] that this doesn’t work, will encourage more illegal immigration, and fundamentally won’t solve the problem,” she said.
The solution is to fix the immigration problem so we don’t have future illegal immigrant children with the same plight, McNeill said. “By enforcing the law and the borders and fixing illegal immigration avenues we can give an opportunity for those here in the U.S. illegally to return home and reapply right away for legal entry into the U.S. under a legitimate visa.”
Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.