The DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided a path to U.S. citizenship for tens of thousands of young people in the United States, died before it reached the floor of the U.S. Senate, leaving supporters wondering what went wrong. As any measure working its way through the halls of Congress, this bill was guided, redirected and stopped by good old fashioned American partisan politics.
“As part of this legislative session there has been no serious movement to do anything that would improve the grievous situation of illegality at our border,” said Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who led the opposition. “Leaders in Washington have not only tolerated lawlessness but, in fact, our policies have encouraged it.” Mr. Sessions added, “This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.”
Opposition to the bill seemed to be centered around the fact that potential candidates for citizenship – some 65,000 or more high school graduates per year, according to DREAM Act advocacy groups – are undocumented or illegal aliens. The problem with that line of thinking, supporters say, is the youth are not illegal by choice. They are in the United States because they were brought to this country by their parents.
One Republican Senator in favor of the bill, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, released a statement after the failed vote saying she sympathized with their difficult situation.
“I support the goal of the DREAM Act which is to enable children who were brought to the United States by their parents to earn citizenship through service in the armed forces or pursuit of higher education,” she said. “ I do not believe that children are to blame for the decision of their parents to enter or remain in the United States unlawfully. The reality is that many of these children regard America as the only country they ever knew. Some were not even told that they were unlawfully in the United States until it came time for them to apply for college. America should provide these young people with the opportunity to pursue the American dream. They have much to offer America if given the chance.”
President Obama, in his year-end news conference Dec. 22, said the defeat of the DREAM Act was his “biggest regret” of the lame-duck session of Congress.
“It is heartbreaking,” Mr. Obama said, pointing out how these youth don’t even realize they are illegal aliens until they try to enroll in college or sign up for the military. “That can’t be who we are. To have our kids, classmates of our children, who are suddenly under this shadow of fear through no fault of their own. They didn’t break the law – they were kids,” the president said.
Republican members of Congress stated in interviews this week that they opposed the DREAM Act because it would “open the door” for some 11 million undocumented aliens to gain citizenship. They said the bigger problem to address is the country’s southern border with Mexico, a portal for millions of illegal immigrants.
“It is pointless to talk about any new immigration bills that grant amnesty until we secure the border, since such bills will only encourage more illegal immigration,” Republican Senator Lamar Smith of Texas said in a statement.
Senator Smith and other Republican colleagues said the bill would “reward violators of the country’s immigration laws and encourage new waves of illegal immigration.” Opposing Senators also said the requirements of the DREAM Act, that candidates attend two years of college or serve at least two years in the military were too easy and that it would allow “lawbreakers to become citizens.”
President Obama said his administration is working hard on border security, and that is something the American people have a right to expect. The president said the fate of the young people should not get lost in the shuffle, though.
“I think it is absolutely appropriate for the American people to expect that we do not have porous borders and anyone can come in here anytime,” Obama said. “But I also think about those kids and I want to do right by them.”
Details of the DREAM Act and immigration law reform will certainly remain fuel for debate until the Congress reconvenes in the new year.