The DREAM Act debate is not over.
We lost another immigration battle this week. But not the war.
As a San Diego Immigration Lawyer, I learned long ago you can lose a bunch of battles and still win the war.
In fact, before the smoke cleared from the political setback in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin had already reintroduced the DREAM Act.
Senator Durbin’s newest move paves the path for the DREAM Act to come back as a stand alone bill, bypassing the judiciary committee. When the item was added to the Senate’s legislative calendar, a specific date for debate was not set. This may have been a deliberate strategic move.
According to media and political observers, it is unlikely the bill will be acted on before the November midterm elections. More likely, the next round of voting on the DREAM Act will occur during the short session between November, after the fall elections, and January, when new legislators start their job.
In short, it reminds me of my sports buddies’ philosophy when I was younger. If we fell behind in the score, we’d simply tell each other, “It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over” and we would keep on plugging away, anticipating eventual victory.
The Ongoing Agony Of The DREAM Act Debate
Essentially, immigration reform is a victim of national politics.
On the one hand, it is easy to point the finger at the Republican party. After all, various GOP legislators have expressed unduly harsh, almost hysterical, anti-immigrant sentiments on issues like birthright citizenship and Arizona’s recently-passed Senate Bill 1070. And last week, not a single Republic voted in favor of the DREAM Act amendment.
In reality, the latest DREAM Act legislative failure cannot be understood by just looking at last week’s vote.
Since The Development, Relief and Education For Alien Minors Act was first proposed in 2001, it has run into one political obstacle after another. Many immigrants felt that with an Obama presidency, these barriers would be quickly surmounted and the DREAM Act would be passed before his first anniversary in office.
Why Did The DREAM Act Fail Again?
In my view, neither the Democrats or Republics are committed to passing the DREAM Act.
Republicans fear future shadows. If measures like the DREAM Act become law, more immigrants will someday become U.S. citizens. In the narrow GOP thinking, Republicans sense most new immigrants will opt to become the new face of the Democratic Party. They see immigration as a numbers game. No new immigrants, no new Democratic voters.
Of course, by supporting immigration reform, this fear would be mitigated. One only has to look at the Hispanic attraction to the Republic Party following President Reagan’s support for legalization in the mid 1980s.
On the other hand, Democrats have wasted golden opportunities to pass immigration reform. Since Obama’s election, Democrats have been in the majority of both Congress and the Senate. To be honest, there has no true concerted effort by Democrat leaders to support immigration reform. Moreover, over the past two years, although Obama has given lip service to helping immigrants from time-to-time, his administration has not made any real efforts to pass an immigration reform bill.
As I noted in an earlier post, Comprehensive Reform Seems Unlikely In 2010, Obama’s recent signature speech on immigration, when closely scrutinized, showed the Democrats strategy for the fall elections. Talk loudly about immigration, act meekly, and then blame the Republicans for obstructionism.
Their goal, it appears, is to have their cake and eat it too. They do not alienate anti-immigrant voters in their individual districts by killing immigration proposals at the committee stage. They avoid being labeled as amnesty supporters. Yet, they can tell immigrant community groups the failure to pass immigration reform is due to their GOP opponents.
The vote last week was 56-43. Three Democrats voted against the measure. If the President truly wanted the DREAM Act to pass, it seems he could have put more muscle into getting the four votes, especially since he had three of his own party voting against the proposal. .
What Will It Take To Pass The DREAM Act?
If I’m reading the Democratic strategy correctly, they hope that after the November elections, either they will have 60 plus votes or departing Republic Senators will finally vote free of their party’s constraints.
I’m not sure either calculation is accurate.
I expect immigration reform to remain a contentious issue next year.
Since lines are being drawn in the sand this fall, I doubt the President will be as accommodating to Republican concerns in the spring. In addition, he has to gear up for his own re-election campaign.
This means he will need to re-earn his support from immigrant communities who openly supported him in 2007. Even if the “blame it on the GOP” act succeeds this year, it is not likely to continue being an effective attack when the fall elections are over.
I suspect, as a result, Congress will experience far more intense debates about immigration reform over the next two years.
Out of those battles, I hope, as a deportation defense attorney, the DREAM Act finally becomes a reality for young immigrants who deserve a path to legalization, not a doorway to deportation.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics