Thursday, December 09, 2010

House passes DREAM Act, a significant victory for Democrats

As you may have heard, the DREAM Act (in full, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which would give undocumented young people a path to citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military, passed the House yesterday. The vote was 216 to 198. Needless to say, it was the Democrats who voted for it.

But what now?

It is highly unlikely that the legislation will pass the Senate, where anti-immigrant Republicans (and most of them take a hard line on undocumented immigration) will do all they can to block it and where Democrats will need 60 votes to override an expected filibuster -- if it even gets that far. Even if the Senate gets the tax deal done, Republicans have committed themselves to obstruction of all Democratic legislation, and they aren't about to give Obama a victory, particularly on immigration. In the GOP, after all, nativism rules, and in this case the marriage of nativism and partisanship is a match made in right-wing heaven.

Even if the legislation fails, though, Democrats will win the politics -- which, in the long run, is significant. As Janet Murguía writes at The Hill:

As the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is urging members of Congress to pass the "Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act." This sensible piece of legislation would allow undocumented kids who have grown up in this country the opportunity to achieve conditional legal status, and eventually earn the ability to apply for citizenship, if they attend college or serve in the military. Polls show the majority of the American public supports the measure. It has been supported by members on both sides of the aisle before, and we have an opportunity to see it pass this week.


For Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the nation's electorate, the DREAM Act vote is a defining one. For one, a significant number of these children are Latino. But more importantly, with this vote Congress can reaffirm the fundamental principle that in America we do not punish innocent children. This issue is near and dear to Latinos because, though the majority of Hispanics are U.S. citizens, we are keenly aware of the devastating effects of congressional inaction on immigration reform and believe America cannot afford to lose another generation of young people who stand to contribute to its economic and social prosperity.

The time for excuses is over. The DREAM Act has been around for over a decade, and has been debated and supported by members of both parties. It is time for a vote, and no amount of excuses will hide which members chose to stand for innocent children, and which did not. And Latinos will remember exactly which side those members chose.

It isn't just that the legislation is broadly popular, or that the military supports it, it's that Latinos (or Hispanics, as the two terms are generally used interchangeably), perhaps the key emerging demographic in the U.S., see it as essential. As Murguía notes, this vote is "defining," meaning that it will be remembered. And what will be remembered is that Democrats supported the legislation and Republicans opposed it.

Of course, we already knew where the two parties stood on the issue of undocumented immigration, but this bill (and especially the divided vote in the House and a likely non-vote in the Senate as a result of Republican opposition) essentially crystallizes the issue in clear and media-friendly terms:

Democrats want to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, Republicans do not.

Democrats want to give the children of undocumented immigrants a chance to make it in America, Republicans do not.

Consider the alternatives: While Democrats want to act humanely and to recognize the valuable contributions undocumented immigrants have made and will make, as Americans, to American society, Republicans prefer persecution, imprisonment, and deportation.

While Democrats want America to be a free and open society that welcomes newcomers and understands why so many people risk their lives to make it to America, Republicans want America to be a fortress largely closed off to the outside world except for the free trade of goods to allow the rich to get richer and internally to be a police state that targets the Other, building walls to keep people out and apart, protecting privilege as it effectively disenfranchises the vast majority of Americans, documented or otherwise.

Yes, the two sides are clearly defined and, with this vote, and with the DREAM Act generally, the choice is clear.

Even if the Democrats ultimately lose in Congress, they stand to gain immensely at the polls down the road -- and that, one hopes, will finally lead not just to a path to citizenship for young people but for the acceptance, inclusion, and full participation in American society of those who came to America to make a better life for themselves and their families, and who only want to share in the hopes and dreams of what is supposedly a great nation.

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