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The Tired Arguments Against the DREAM Act

December 21, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

DREAMers praying


On December 18, the Senate voted on a motion to end a threatened filibuster against the DREAM Act.  A majority of senators supported the motion, but it failed to get the necessary 60-vote supermajority.  Once again, a minority of Senators succeeded in preventing the Senate from solving a problem, and the problem will be kicked over to a future Congress.  (For more on how the vote went, read our policy update.)


As is common in these polarized times, anyone who was listening to the debate might have thought that Republicans and Democrats were talking about two entirely different bills, or were talking about two entirely different populations of people who would benefit from the bill.


The Saturday morning debate was conducted concurrently with debate on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which the Senate also voted on.  For those speaking against the DREAM Act, there were several recurring themes, none of them convincing. 


Lindsey Graham, Jon Kyl, and others insisted that “we cannot have any legalization program before we secure the borders.”  “Our citizens have a right to be safe and secure.”  It’s hard to argue with that.  What these Senators neglected to mention, though, is that the government has greatly escalated border enforcement in the last few years.  Most recently, an additional $600 million was allocated for border security in an “emergency” spending bill passed in August.  The Border Patrol budget is now $3 billion—nine times what it was in 1992.


With all of the federal resources on top of state and local resources, several border communities now rank among the safest in the U.S.  El Paso, Texas, was recently ranked as having the lowest crime rate of all cities in the U.S. with a population of 500,000 or more.  A recent survey of border residents along the length of the border found that a majority feel safe in their neighborhoods.  The border is secure.  It’s time to move beyond an argument that had more relevance a decade ago.


Senator Kyl claimed the bill would lead to “chain migration.”  That argument sounded like a talking point given to him by a lobbyist, which he didn’t have time to vet through his staff.  The bill that he was voting to block would have granted a 10-year conditional status to DREAM students, after which they would gain legal permanent resident (LPR) status.  After another three years as LPRs, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship.  Only after becoming U.S. citizens, would they be able to sponsor their parents.  If their parents were here illegally, they would have to leave the country for 10 years before being eligible to return.  The whole process would take in the neighborhood of 25 years before the parents, if still alive, would gain permanent resident status—if they are still alive.  DREAM students, once they become citizens, would also be able to sponsor their brothers and sisters, but that process would likely take even longer, given the long wait times for visas allotted to brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.


An argument made by Senator McCain seemed to be an even greater stretch than most of the others.  He said that “we are just six weeks out from an election in which the American people repudiated the agenda of the other side.”  Americans have been very upset about the state of the economy, and Republicans made major gains in the last election, but to say that was a “repudiation” of the Democrats’ entire agenda is not supported by public opinion surveys.  For example, a recent story in the Washington Post about a public opinion poll conducted by the Post and ABC News noted that the public still trusts President Obama “marginally more” than Congressional Republicans.


“The poll suggests that the election, while perhaps a vote against the status quo, was not a broad mandate for Republicans and their plans. The survey also underscores the degree to which Americans are conflicted about who they think is setting the agenda in Washington.”


Regarding the DREAM Act, an opinion poll conducted by First Focus, an organization concerned with families and children, found that, when the contents of the DREAM Act was described to them, 70% of the American public supported the DREAM Act.


Another theme of the opposition was procedural; that DREAM was being rushed through, and that there was insufficient time to consider the Act. For example, Senator Hutchison (R-TX) said in a statement that, “[s]uch serious legislation should be brought up in a time frame that allows for consideration, deliberation and consensus through full debate and amendments.”  This is the 10th year the DREAM Act has been in Congress.  These procedural arguments, made by Hutchison and others in states with large Latino populations, sounded more like they were made so that the Senator could play both sides of the fence: She can say that her objection wasn’t necessarily to the DREAM Act itself, but to the way it was brought to the floor.


One of the major themes of DREAM Act supporters, articulated by Senator Schumer and echoed by Senators Gillibrand and Durbin, was that the legislation is part of America’s “long and difficult march to equality.”  In this frame, the movement to pass the DREAM Act is the latest chapter in historic efforts to gain rights for women, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and others who have been discriminated against over the years.  The DREAM students have been brought up in the country but, because our laws are broken, they are prohibited from working here and pursuing their dreams. 


When the debate was over, no minds were changed.  For the thousands of students watching in the Senate gallery and across the country, the vote was heartbreaking.  But they are already preparing for the next phase of their fight.  They are not going away, and neither are their millions of supporters across the country.


If your Senators supported the DREAM Act, please thank them.  If your Senators did not support the DREAM Act, express your disappointment and let them know you are watching. Whichever way your Senators voted, you can go to our Web site here to send a letter.


Image: United We DREAM

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