Will the Senate Make the DREAM Act a Reality?
This post originally appeared on the Washington Monthly.
The chances of the Senate taking up a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year are about zero. But there is time, and at least some political will, to tackle smaller measures related to the larger policy.
Some immigrant rights groups are shifting the strategy in their so-far unsuccessful push to overhaul immigration law: They're calling the new tactic the "down payment" approach.
"We are aware that the clock is running out, and there are no guarantees that a Congress that is supportive of immigration reform will be returned in November," said Antonio Gonzales, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a Latino public policy group. "We took a deep breath and said, 'Okay, we need a Plan B.' "
And part of Plan B is pursuing a measure called the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), which is sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.). I'd like to think a bill like this would be a no-brainer. Every year, tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants graduate from American high schools, but are quickly stuck -- they can't qualify for college aid, and they can't work legally. America is the only home they've ever known -- in most cases, they were brought into the country illegally by their parents -- but at 18, they have few options.
The DREAM Act provides a path to citizenship for these young immigrants -- graduate from high school, get conditional permanent residency status, go to college or serve in the military, and become eligible for citizenship.
The road ahead for the measure is tricky. On the right, Senate Republicans have predictably vowed to filibuster the measure. On the left, there are concerns that passing the DREAM Act might make passing a comprehensive bill more difficult. For now, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seems serious about trying to get it to the floor before the elections.
In theory, getting enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster shouldn't be difficult. Not only is Lugar co-sponsoring the bill, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) helped write the policy a few years ago. Better yet, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), before his transformation into a right-wing hack, not only endorsed the DREAM Act, he offered congressional testimony in support of the idea, and promised the National Council of La Raza two years ago that he would support the bill if elected president.
To be sure, consistency isn't their best quality, but conservative Republicans have been on board with the DREAM Act for years. If just a few of them would let the Senate vote, up or down, on the bill, it stands a chance.