A Bi-Partisan DREAM Act: A Proposal That Must Be Taken Seriously
On March 27th, the news broke in The Hill that there were Republicans in Washington that were working on an alternative and more conservative version of the DREAM Act. While no details were released, Senator Marco Rubio indicated that the Republican plan would differ from the current DREAM Act, in that it would allow for a path to legalization for the kids that could qualify for relief under the bill, but would not allow these kids to have a pathway to citizenship expressly through this legislation. Immediately, several progressive news outlets and advocates denounced the idea as a political move. I find that argument to be both ironic and specious. Their argument is ironic, because for as long as our coalition, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, has been working to create political space for conservative immigration solutions, we have continually heard the argument that it cannot be done due to politics. I also find their argument to be specious, because it is quite possibly because of election year politics that there is now, in fact, political space to perhaps solve some of our nation’s most pressing and difficult immigration problems.
I would like to suggest that everyone should reserve judgment on this issue until the Republicans have had an opportunity to roll their ideas out for public consideration. I note that the actual DREAMers have, for the most part, advocated a cautious yet optimistic approach. The Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition has been quietly working across party lines for almost two years with members of the Senate, the House, the Administration, and their staffs, to seek some kind of compromise legislation that would allow the DREAM Act to become the law of the land. Our goal – which is based on the moral, ethical, and Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded - is to allow the worthy young men and women that can qualify for DREAM Act eligibility to have an opportunity to emerge from the shadows of society, and to participate in their own American dreams.
Our coalition quickly learned that we were presented with certain political realities, the most daunting of which is that the DREAM Act, as presently written, simply cannot reach the required 60 votes to pass in the Senate. Furthermore, even if it could pass the Senate, it would certainly be defeated in the House. That is the reality that confronts the passage of the current DREAM Act. Therefore, the true question becomes, “What can pass both houses of Congress?” A recent New York Times editorial suggests that, “the DREAM Act without the Dream should be dismissed out of hand.” I feel that to embrace this position is to embrace failure, and to most of the undocumented men and women who could possibly improve their lives through the passage of some version of the DREAM Act, the failure to pass a bill is simply not an option. I submit that while a pathway to citizenship would be preferable to these kids, citizenship, in and of itself, is not the DREAM. Living their lives in dignity and above board is the DREAM.
In September of last year, members of our coalition spoke in Tucson, Arizona, at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference’s Immigration Summit. We were very honest with the primarily Hispanic audience. We explained to them that, in our opinion, the only way to pass the DREAM Act would be without a path to citizenship. In the Q and A session at the end of the summit, the first question was on this issue. Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, President of the NHCLC, and also a Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform member, put it to a vote. Only 10 people, (we counted), out of almost 900 people in attendance at that church were against this plan. Roughly 99% of the folks expressed that they would be satisfied with a DREAM Act without the pathway to citizenship. It seems that the real question that we, as a country, have to ask is, “what do we need?” The pathway to citizenship may very well be what most of these kids want, but faced with the prospect of not having any prospects, the vast majority of these kids would be quite grateful to our Congress to at least get what they need.
The true test in Congress is whether or not they can find the legislative “sweet spot,” that allows them to solve the very vexing problem of what to do with the high achieving and innocent children that were brought here illegally. Our coalition has been bending over backwards, speaking in Washington and all over the country, trying to explain to skeptical politicians and the public at large that our group is not for “amnesty.” While we ultimately do favor a comprehensive immigration reform that does allow for a pathway to citizenship, our group argues for that pathway to be “earned.” We prescribe several steps that the undocumented would have to follow – including their admitting to have broken the law, and having to pay a significant penalty to get right with the law - to be put on a pathway to legalization, and eventual citizenship.
The current DREAM Act, as written, would allow the parents of the beneficiaries of this bill to some day simply skip the “earned pathway,” and to be able to get their citizenship in a way that is hard to argue is not amnesty. A revised DREAM Act that does not allow for citizenship would allow these kids to fulfill their god given potential, and to live their lives in an unfettered pursuit of happiness. It would not allow them to sponsor their parents. Most of the members of our coalition believe that the primary responsibility that our country has on this issue is to solve this problem in a way that allows these kids to legally pursue their happiness, without giving their parents amnesty. We have been working with the offices of Senators Hutchison and Kyl for over a year on this proposal. I want to state categorically that, as both of these long-serving Senators are retiring after this year, these Senators are working on this bill as much more of a political legacy issue than as a political election issue.
In closing, we are committed to the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that would allow many of these parents an earned opportunity to legalize their status, and to someday earn their citizenship. However, we have to start somewhere. We have to do what is do-able. The DREAM Act without the pathway to citizenship is something that can actually pass this year, so it must be taken very seriously. The DREAM Act as written cannot pass. Certainly comprehensive immigration reform cannot pass this year. Our coalition strongly feels that our nation has a moral obligation to do what we “can” do. A version of the DREAM Act as suggested by Senator Rubio has a realistic chance of passing, and therefore vastly improving the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of promising young and innocent men and women that are currently living lives of quiet desperation in the shadows of society.