By William Fisher
Democratic lawmakers will attempt to summon up their waning power by using the so-called “lame duck” session of Congress to pass what will likely be the closest they will get to comprehensive immigration reform.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will shepherd remaining members of their dwindling flock to pass The DREAM Act, which provides a six-year conditional path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents before they were 16 years of age. In order to qualify, an illegal immigrant has either to obtain a college degree or serve two years in the military.
Despite heavy support from immigration, civil rights, business and labor groups, some conservative Republican legislators – including some who were original co-sponsors of the legislation -- are continuing to brand the measure as “amnesty.”
Supporters of the bill say this is merely an attempt to scare the American public.
The measure’s critics contend that defeating the act must be, in the words of Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, “ a top priority before it provides an uncontrollable citizenship path to thousands of illegal immigrants.”
The right-wing publication Newsmax writes, “On the surface, the act would provide a road to citizenship for students who are illegal immigrants.” But it quotes the conservative Rep. King as saying “it would allow students to sponsor their extended families on that path.”
“We calculated that a single individual could bring in 357 people on a family reunification plan before we ran out of room on our spreadsheet,” King says.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be able to push the act through the lame-duck session of Congress, King told Newsmax. But Republicans should be able to use the filibuster to kill it in the Senate, he says.
“This is an out-of-control immigration path,” King says. “We need to fence that in and limit it to direct family members.”
King also intends to introduce a bill next year making clear that babies born to illegal mothers in the United States aren’t American citizens because they aren’t subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
A "lame duck" session of Congress in the U.S. occurs whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor's term begins. The old Congress returned to work November 15 for a week, then recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday. They will return to work on Monday. Representatives and Senators elected or reelected in the mid-term elections just concluded will not take office until January 2011.
Meanwhile, efforts to shore up support for the legislation continue to strengthen.
The measure now has the support of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and a wide range of organizations and individuals concerned with the political, economic and social implications of immigration reform.
“I supported the DREAM Act when I was governor. I support it now…It seems to me that that DREAM Act is a good piece of legislation and a good idea,” Napolitano told Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin in congressional testimony.
Travis Packer, a Policy Research Assistant with the American Immigration Council, says the “tired effort to pit immigrants against native born is not only destructive, but has no basis in fact. It also ignores the economic benefits that come from legalizing a group of talented, hard working individuals who want nothing more than to contribute to America and repay the country for the opportunities they’ve been given.”
“It’s hard to imagine, given the economic data and bipartisan support, how these hardliners can justify twisting the DREAM Act into a rhetorical ball of fear,” he says, adding:
“The people who qualify for the amnesty are those who did not choose to be illegal immigrants. In essence, as illegal immigrants these are people without a country. All their lifelong friends are from the U.S., and they know nobody - and perhaps don't even speak the language - of their motherland. In addition, by adding people with degrees to the country, it will help us advance.”
Packer has assembled a litany of what he terms the myths that have become associated with the DREAM Act. He says, “The most egregious of them is the allegation that the DREAM Act “rewards” undocumented youth—who, by the way, had no choice in coming to the United States.”
He says other myths include:
The DREAM Act’s passage would somehow cheat native-born students out of opportunities. It will spur more illegal immigration because it rewards undocumented youth. It uses taxpayer dollars for scholarships and grants to undocumented students. It legalizes criminals and gang members and lets people who have already been ordered deported avoid the law.
Packer says, “Clearly, these myths are being spun in an effort to scare Americans into opposing this piece of humanitarian legislation as well as a larger immigration overhaul in the future. The truth is that the DREAM Act has long been supported by both Republicans and Democrats alike—not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good economic sense for all Americans.”
The Act has won the support of Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She says, “I supported the Dream Act when I was governor. I support it now…It seems to me that the Dream Act is a good piece of legislation and a good idea.”
Alejandro J. Beutel, Government Liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), told IPS, “Passing the DREAM Act is in our nation's best moral and economic interests. Doing so will ensure America remains the world's shining beacon of individual liberty and prosperity."
And, according to the Economist newspaper, “The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters. It says that we will not hobble the prospects of young people raised and schooled in America just because we were so perverse to demand that their parents wait in a line before a door that never opens.”
The Act “signals that we were once a nation of immigrants, and even if we have become too fearful and small to properly honor that noble legacy, America in some small way remains a land of opportunity,” the magazine wrote.
In a related development, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that students who attend at least three years of high school in California and graduate are eligible for in-state tuition rates at California public colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status. The court found that federal law did not bar California from offering tuition equality to students. California is one of 10 states with similar laws on the books.
DREAM Act supporters say the legislation would clarify what the California Supreme Court recognized: that federal law does not bar states from making the policy choice to afford students equal access to education.