DREAM Act Still Not Controversial
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his intent last week to attach the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill that would appropriate money to fund U.S. military operations. Democrats were not able to get 60 votes in support of beginning debate on the bill, so now the future of the DREAM Act is up in the air. The DREAM Act would provide permanent residence to undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children who complete two years of college or military service.
After the vote, DREAMers immediately responded to their network of supporters: Call 202-224-3121 and ask Senator Reid to bring the DREAM Act to the Senate floor as a standalone bill.
But the editorial boards of those same media outlets have overwhelmingly supported passage of the DREAM Act, 14 out of 16 at last count. I have read op-eds by anti-immigrant politicians or advocates that took an anti-DREAM Act position. But I have seen only two opinion pieces from newspaper editorial boards that opposed the DREAM Act on the merits. And each of them mischaracterized some key element of the Act or of the debate.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal claims the DREAM Act "would create a new and more powerful incentive for illegal aliens to sneak into this country with their foreign-born children, who would thus be promised automatic citizenship if they can just dodge the authorities for a few years." Wrong. The Act would not be retroactive, and would only apply to applicants who could prove they had already been in the U.S. for five years at the time of passage of the Act.
The Review-Journal also claims that the DREAM Act "is vastly unpopular with voters." Also wrong. A public opinion poll conducted this year by First Focus showed that 70% of the public supports the DREAM Act. More recently, a poll by Rasmussen found that 52% of respondents support the education component (permanent residence after two years of college) and 78% support the military component (permanent residence after two years of military service) of the DREAM Act.
The other editorial written in opposition to the DREAM Act comes from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The editorial claims that there would be no process for verifying an applicant's claim of entry before age 16. This displays a profound ignorance of immigration law and the agencies that implement it. USCIS, the domestic immigration agency, does not take anyone's word for anything. Deeply built into the application process for any immigration benefit is a documentation and interview procedure. Judging by existing procedures, applicants under the DREAM Act would need to provide copious documentation for claims of entry before age 16, such as vaccination charts, school records, parents' tax returns, and other independent evidence of physical presence in the U.S.
The Tribune-Review also claims that applicants could obtain legal status simply by claiming intent to go to college or serve in the military. This claim ignores the text of the bill, which states that there would be a six-year period of conditional residence during which an applicant would have to show completion of the two years of college or military service. Otherwise, the applicant's status would be revoked and he or she would be placed into deportation proceedings.
The DREAM Act only becomes controversial when opponents blatantly mischaracterize key aspects of the bill.
Even Republican Senators who expressed opposition to the procedure by which the DREAM Act was to be voted on would likely vote for it as a standalone bill. Senators Bennett and Lugar fall into this category, and possibly others. The conservative website Texas GOP Vote went one better and blamed Democratic Senators for causing the DREAM Act to fail.
A year ago, I wrote that:
The DREAM Act takes its strength directly from the assimilationist ethic upon which the ideological nationhood of the U.S. is founded. This is the universalist aspirational ideal, that anyone is potentially an American if they commit to become a member of the nation, if they do things the right way, if they work hard and don't abuse the system. This ideal is both universalist and necessarily exclusive, but its unifying power within the bounds of the nation is undeniable. . . .
So what, then, is so controversial about the DREAM Act? It reaches something fundamental about what it means to be an American.
All of this raises the question: We see the DREAM Act described as controversial, but controversial to who? Not to the media outlets which overwhelmingly support the Act. Not the public. Not even some key Republican Senators from the reddest of red states.
The DREAM Act is only controversial to the hardline anti-immigrant activists who want to hermetically seal this country's borders to keep all immigrants out, who fear more than anything seeing children of immigrants succeed and integrate into American culture the way they have done for the last 200 years.
The controversy to me is that these few misguided voices are given such influence over this crucial piece of legislation. Pass the DREAM Act. Pass it now.