Updated 10/8/10 4:58 p.m., clarifying that the DREAM Act would not have applied to Medill junior Leezia Dhalla, who is in the country legally.
Updated 10/8/10 3:05 a.m.
The possibility of naturalization for about one million illegal immigrants was tied to the rights of gay Americans in the military. Both parties lost.
The National Defense Authorization Act, a $726 billion appropriations bill, failed in the Senate on Sept. 21. The legislation, which sought to repeal the laughably inadequate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, also included a provision called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The immigration reform legislation would have applied to those who had been in the United States for at least five years and arrived here before turning 16. Upon graduation or the achievement of a GED from an American high school, depending on “good moral character,” the immigrants would be granted legal status after spending two years either serving in the military or attending some form of post-high school education.
A simple enough bill to pass, right? You might think so, but that would mean forgetting the favored response of Boehner and company to the prospect of social progress. Yes, the Grand Old Party of no has again convened around the venerated altar of Exclusion; not one Republican voted in the affirmative.
Medill Professor Jack Doppelt, who teaches reporting class Connecting with Immigrant/Multi-Ethnic Communities, characterizes himself as a strong supporter of the DREAM Act.
“The most persuasive reason [to pass the DREAM legislation] is that it addresses people who came here as minors,” Doppelt said. “They therefore should have an opportunity to become productive members of the United States […] The DREAM Act is a really thoughtful way of doing it.”
Examining the circumstances of the individuals living with the stigma of illegal status constitutes an even more compelling argument. Medill junior Leezia Dhalla came to the United States from Canada as a six-year-old. She’s here legally, so the DREAM Act wouldn’t have applied to her. But she still views the issue through a personal lens.
“I actually know a lot of people who came to the United States even just as babies,” Dhalla said. “[The DREAM Act] is not amnesty of any sort, because a two- or three-year old crossing the border doesn’t qualify as criminal activity.”
The filibuster of the bill has ignited both the motivation and anger of immigrant activist groups as they look forward to putting the DREAM Act back on the table. In a press release issued on Sept. 22, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights charged Republicans and the few Democrats who voted in opposition with having blocked legislation that “would be a major step toward bringing our immigration laws back in line with our nation’s values of justice, fairness, and hard work.”
Aside from promoting a culture of equality, the DREAM Act has the potential to lift economic and societal worries currently entrenched in the debate over illegal immigration: Doppelt said he sees vast benefits in a holistic sense for the entire country over the long run.
“The act’s positive impact would be that it would legitimize the presence of people here, which would be a huge lift of fear [of the American public] and the designation of unnecessary resources,” Doppelt said. “It would give people here illegally even maybe a touch more incentive to contribute [to society].”
Unfortunately, the GOP isn’t too concerned with allaying overly imaginative nightmares about border-jumpers usurping control of the homeland. And it has no qualms in consistently proving that it will work much harder for the Smiths than the Ramirezes.
But this issue is bigger than politics. The DREAM Act would function as a catalyst, giving a generation of the undocumented population a concrete incentive to engage and proudly represent America. Beyond congressional gridlock or even looming midterm elections, the passage of this bill is an issue of ethics, Dhalla said.
“Some of these [immigrants] can’t go to college, and even if they can, they can’t get a job afterwards,” Dhalla said. “To see people go to these lengths to finance their educations and maintain decent character and not be able to reinvest in society is frustrating […] To be here for this long, it’s not an issue of being American or not being American. It’s an issue of being fair.”
Leezia Dhalla’s year has been corrected from senior to junior. Thanks to Dhalla for pointing out the error.