The bill that would give people brought to the U.S. illegally as children a chance to become legal residents fell five votes short of becoming law in December,marking its fifth consecutive defeat. But supporters are rallying around it once more.
“Every year we fail to pass it,people who did nothing wrong are being deported unfairly,” Rep. Howard Berman,D-Calif.,the bill’s House sponsor,said.
Eligible immigrants could gain permanent residency after completing at least two years of college or military service and meeting other requirements.
“The DREAM Act children are caught,through no fault of their own,in a legal and political situation they know nothing about,” Rep. Rubén Hinojosa,D-Texas,a DREAM Act co-sponsor,said.
“We’ve done it,and we’ll do it again,” he said about passing the bill in the House.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Development,Relief,and Education for Alien Minors Act in June. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano voiced their support.
But the committee’s House counterpart is unlikely to do the same under the leadership of Rep. Lamar Smith,R-Texas. On July 12,the House Judiciary Committee chairman introduced the Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation (HALT) Act. The bill would prevent the government from exercising prosecutorial discretion,a practice by which authorities may choose not to deport some undocumented immigrants based on factors such as how they arrived in the country,college enrollment and criminal history.
“This isn’t an issue that he’s going to embrace – he’s made that very clear,” Angela Kelley,vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress,said of Smith. “It doesn’t mean that the politics of this couldn’t overtake his opposition to it. This isn’t a Polaroid snapshot. This is a movie,and no one can tell how it’s going to end.”
The DREAM Act garnered an 18-vote win in the House last year but failed on a 55-41 split in the Senate. The November Republican sweep,which ousted about one-fifth of the bill’s House supporters,has left observers with little faith that it will make headway during the next two years.
“Everything in this Congress is a tug-of-war to the highest degree,” said Anastasia Tonello,partner and head of U.S. practice for the immigration law firm Laura Devine Attorneys in New York. “I don’t see why,if it didn’t pass in December,it would pass now.”
A major roadblock for the bill has been its characterization as amnesty,a label its supporters refute.
“An amnesty is to forgive people for something they did wrong. These DREAM Act students didn’t do anything wrong,” Berman said. “They came here as children because a parent or guardian decided to come here and bring them.”
Opponents of the DREAM Act,including Rep. Mac Thornberry,R-Texas,reason that the bill would promote illegal immigration.
“There are instances in which a child is brought into the United States illegally and does not discover it until it is time to apply for college or a job,” he said in a statement. “We should find a compassionate way to deal with such situations that does not undermine the rule of law or encourage others to violate our laws.”
Critics argue that making children legal residents would lead to making entire families legal residents.
But children must be 21 to sponsor their parents,and penalties and application processing time make that argument unrealistic,Tonello said. She estimated that illegal immigrants would have to wait 35 years before they could gain residency through their children.
“The parents aren’t going to benefit for a very long time if they are even eligible to benefit,” she said.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer,R-Texas,doesn’t see immigration policy moving forward while fiscal issues dominate Congress. Additionally,the DREAM Act fails to address holistic immigration reform,he said.
“It’s taking one piece of the overall immigration policy and trying to do it in a piecemeal basis,” he said. “We’d have to look at some kind of comprehensive immigration reform for issues covered under the DREAM Act to really be brought up.”
Rep. Mike Conaway,R-Texas,did not respond to a request for comment.
Activists on both sides of the debate are battling on the state level as well. Opponents of a Maryland bill,which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain requirements,gathered thousands of petition signatures. That suspended the law in June,two months after it was passed,and put it on the ballot in 2012.
Though the chances of the DREAM Act making it through Congress appear dim,Kelley said that pushing it forward is part of the advocacy process.
“That was just one small component of a much bigger movement of youth that are organizing and going to incredible lengths to tell their story,” she said. “That kind of intense advocacy continues even after the bill failed.”
Hinojosa and Berman said they will continue to raise public awareness about the bill,help immigrants tell their stories and recruit co-sponsors.
“Changing the minds of those against the DREAM Act is definitely an uphill battle,” Hinojosa said. “This is not an easy fight by any means,but it is a cause we cannot and will not give up on.”
Reach reporter Nadia Tamez-Robledo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-326-9865
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