The Dream Statute: An Idea For The Pro-Migrant Movement

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NOTE: This post is a draft that I hope I will be able to make better through public discussion. I might significantly change it as I have more time to and get more input.

Pablo Paredes wrote me with some very thoughtful objections to some of what I wrote and has asked me to take the post down, for now, until I rework it. I'd like to honor that request. Apologies to those who have already read it and want the original text. If you ask for it in the comments I'll try to find a way to make that available once some things are made clear. In the meantime I'll leave up the text for what I meant by DREAM Statute.
The DREAM Statute

The DREAM Act is a shitty piece of legislation from a pro-migrant perspective. There I said it. It feels good to say it right now when there isn't a big public push for it and we have to try to sell it to everyone else. It's shitty piece of legislation for the limited, expensive, and drawn out options that it provides for migrant youth, but most importantly, in my mind, it's only a one-time legalization. That means that unless the entire U.S. immigration system is fixed, and I doubt that will happen in my lifetime, that as soon as we pass it another generation of DREAMers will grow up without the right to exist in the only country they know as their home. If nativists are still mad about the Reagan amnesty in 1986, I can't imagine what they'll say if we try to pass another DREAM Act in ten to twenty years.

For a long time people have been pushing to expand the DREAM Act legislation, and I include myself amongst those that have pushed for it, but it's become clear to me that as soon as concessions are made, it's very hard to take them back. It doesn't mean we shouldn't push to continue to expand the DREAM Act, but it's just a reality of negotiation and power unfortunately.

Still, the strength of the DREAM Act has never been in the specific legislation, but in the narrative of the folks who would benefit from it. Dreamers is what they have come to call themselves. I know there are sensitivities around different groups trying to coopt the identity of Dreamers, and again this is an idea to discuss more than something I'm fixed on doing. I'm in favor of inclusive narratives and organizing and I believe the central narrative of the DREAMer, that this is the only country they know as their home, can be applied to a wide swath of the undocumented population, particularly those that have been in the U.S. for a long time, regardless of their age. When (not if) the DREAM Act passes, in whatever form that it passes, I think a possible good next step is to try and push something that I'm tentaviely calling a Dream Statute. What is this Dream Statute that I'm proposing? The idea for the statute isn't mine, but this is the first time I believe it's being proposed within the context of this narrative and organizing strategy. Professor Mae Ngai, author of a definitive history of U.S. immigration law, "Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern Immigration Law," proposed in a Washington Post editorial the idea of a "deportation deadline."

The idea is simple, to put a statute of limitations on deporting migrants. In other words, if an undocumented person has been present in the U.S. for. say 5 years, the DREAM Statute would provide them with a route to state that the U.S. no longer has standing to deport them. To pass, the statute would probably have to be longer than five years and have to include exceptions for "bad" immigrants as pro-migrant bloggers like Maegan Ortiz at Vivir Latino have long spoken against, but we don't need to start from those bargaining positions, just start by demanding that lawmakers support a 5-year statute of limitations on unauthorized presence in the U.S.

The arguments in favor of such a statute are similar to some of the strongest arguments in favor of the DREAM Act, namely that once an unauthorized migrant has been present in the U.S. for some time they develop ties and start to become members of our communities and the Dream Statute would recognize them as such. Prof. Ngai also argues some additional, moral, historical, and law enforcement arguments:

We should consider that nearly all offenses, civil and criminal, carry statutes of limitations. Time limits provide an incentive for plaintiffs to bring suit promptly. It is not the best use of the government's resources to pursue old cases in which the evidence is stale or difficult to obtain. The benefits of prosecution often diminish with time, as the offender has often reformed. Limiting the time of possible prosecution also thwarts the potential for blackmail by a third party that knows of the offense. (This is essentially how employers abuse undocumented workers.) Finally, the passage of time brings with it the need for closure. The U.S. Supreme Court recently explained: "The statute of limitations establishes a deadline after which the defendant may legitimately have peace of mind." Only the most serious crimes, such as kidnapping and murder, carry no statutes of limitations.

A statute of limitations on unlawful entry is therefore not anachronistic but consistent with basic legal and moral principles. It does not condone or reward illegal immigration: Unauthorized presence would remain a violation of the law and continue to carry the risk of apprehension and removal, at least for some period of time. But it would allow us to recognize that the undocumented become, for better or worse, members of the community, and to accept them as such.

Restoring the statute of limitations would not solve our immigration problems. But it would go a long way towards ending a permanent population that is easily exploitable and lives forever outside the polity.
Mae Ngai - Washington Post (14 June 2005)

I've gone on for much too long already, and it might seem a little premature for me to propose this before the DREAM Act is passed, but if this is something that folks want to do then we have to start preparing, now, so that when the DREAM Act is passed, we have something already in the works to build on that.

I'm going to share this post with a select few, unedited, and depending on their reaction I might edit it, break it up, or change it in some other way, but I just wanted to get this out there for now. The connection between the anti-war arguments against the DREAM Act and the DREAM Statute is the following. This is a public discussion about the future of the DREAM Act and what it means, and I think the way to find a way forward is through something like a DREAM Statute. A lot of different folks have to agree to that before I can even consider acting on it, though, so I wanted to propose this in a public place so that we can begin to have a discussion about it.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on September 7, 2011 7:29 AM.

Migrant Youth Civil Disobedience Takes A Turn was the previous entry in this blog.

Republican Presidential Candidates on Immigration in Politico/NBC Debate (Video) is the next entry in this blog.

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