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Dream On

The DREAM Act, a bill that would give a path to legalization for many undocumented young people, narrowly passed in the House of Representatives yesterday evening by a 216-198 vote. The bill’s passage was greatly applauded by President Barack Obama, who has called it “an important step” toward comprehensive immigration reform. But this by no means marks the end of the struggle to make DREAM a reality. The Senate version of the bill is set to be voted on today, and it is expected to face stiff opposition particularly from Republicans who have already threatened with a filibuster. If that were to happen, a total of 60 votes would be needed in order to allow the bill to proceed to the final stage in voting.

In the House debate that took place, Republicans objected to the bill on several grounds, including the charge that its passing would lead to an increase in illegal immigration and that it would diminish the amount of opportunities available for Americans. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), an avid opponent of DREAM who is bound to have a heavy hand in immigration policy next session as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said the following, “American workers should not have to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs. Once these kids become citizens, they can bring in their brothers and sisters and parents, who can bring in other in an endless chain.” In the same vein, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said “This bill will give foreigners who are here illegally preferences above American citizens. This is no Dream Act. It is an affirmative-action amnesty nightmare.”

In an effort to shed some light on the benefits that would come from the passage of DREAM, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) who introduced the bill in the House, said “This is less about the kids who will benefit from the bill and more about the nation that will benefit from having these kids.” This bill has been viewed by Latin and Hispanic activists and immigrant advocates as a “downpayment” on what they had hoped would have been broader action taken by President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Be that as it may, the reality is that this may just be the last chance for DREAM to materialize since the Republicans will take control over the majority of the House and a greater portion of the Senate come January. In recognition of the possibility of the DREAM Act’s defeat- as was featured in the Huffington Post- Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA, a pro-immigration employers coalition, said the defeat won’t end Congress’ attempts to address the issue but predicted that future legislation will be very different from this one. “Anything that they’re going to do is going to disappoint comprehensive immigration reform advocates. It’s going to be a tough haul to tackle the subject in the new Congress.

After the House passed the DREAM Act, Obama issued a statement pledging to move forward on immigration reform and singling the bill as a way of connecting what he called “one of the most egregious flaws of a badly broken immigration system.” He continued on to say: “this vote is not only the right thing to do for a group of talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own by continuing their education or serving in the military, but it is the right thing for the United States of America. We are enriched by their talents and the success of their efforts will contribute to our nation’s success and security.” In his statement he was surely referring to the ample research- which we reported on in an earlier article- that has proven to indicate that the DREAM Act would bring tremendous benefits to the U.S. economy and workforce, that it would help increase our educational standing in the world, and would contribute greatly to national security as well.

In the midst of the heated debate, Democrats took to the House floor to paint the measure as a matter of basic decency. “Have a little compassion,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said directing his remarks to Republicans. “These children [were brought here], they didn’t decide to come here. They know no other country. Some of them don’t even know the language of the country in which they were born, and they deserve to have a right as free Americans.” Unfortunately, their petition fell on deaf ears, as is evident by the comments made by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.): “It is not being cold-hearted to acknowledge that every dollar spent on illegal immigrants is one dollar less that’s spent on our own children, our own senior citizens and for all those who entered this society who played by the rules, who paid their taxes and expect their government to watch out for their needs before it bestows privileges and scarce resources on illegals.” Yet contrary to the popular belief that pins Republicans against the DREAM Act, although it is true that the House supporters were largely from the Democratic Party, a total of eight Republicans reached across the aisle to contribute its passing, while more than three dozen Democrats voted against it.

The hopes of undocumented youth have been growing thanks to the bipartisan support and important endorsements nationwide. However, despite its position to reap from its benefits, Florida Senator LeMieux has not shown his support for what would be a significant opportunity for the future of the state. According to 2010 U.S. Census projections released this week, Hispanics under the age of 20 make up between 21.8 % and 25% of the total youth population in the U.S.- a significant increase over the 17% calculations derived from the 2000 U.S. Census. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show that passing the DREAM Act would bring between 300,000 to 500,000 of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, thus solidifying the DREAM Act as the single window of opportunity that has the potential to change the lives of foreign-born youths today by giving them a chance to build a better life for themselves that will collectively result in a better future for America as a whole. Even though the Senate has delayed a cloture vote on the bill until later today, and although prospects for the bill there remain bleak, our optimism will not waver. As a last resort if the cloture vote were to fail the Senate could still take up the House’s version of the bill. But time is running short.

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