Saving the DREAM
Last Friday, President Obama announced a new policy that addresses many of the issues raised in the proposed DREAM Act. The President seems to have decided that waiting ten years for Congress to act is long enough.
What the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) would do is to provide permanent residency to young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and who are of “good moral character,” who have graduated from high school, and who satisfy a series of other conditions. The Act was originally proposed on August 1, 2001, by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and has had bipartisan support ever since.
This seemed pretty much like a no-brainer, an easy first step toward comprehensive immigration reform. Children who were brought to this country before they were able to decide for themselves where they wanted to be, and who since then have grown to young adulthood while being model members of their community, should certainly be granted the right to stay here. The DREAM Act did not grant citizenship, though it did encourage public service or the ability to contribute to the community, in the form of joining the military or attending (and graduating from) college.
Still, after ten years, Congress did not pass a version of this law. The bill was last re-introduced in the Senate, in May of 2011, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Several Senators who had previously supported the bill — including John Cornyn (R-TX), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — now chose to oppose it, saying that America needed stronger enforcement of existing immigration laws first. This seems disingenuous, since more illegal immigrants have been deported in just the first three years of President Obama’s term than in the full eight years of President Bush’s. Nevertheless, Republicans filibustered the bill, and it languished once more.
President Obama has supported the DREAM Act. Being obligated, as President, to enforce existing law, he is bound by the current federal immigration statutes. However, being the head of the Executive Branch, he has wide discretion on how to do that. “Prosecutorial discretion” exists for a number of reasons, primarily because law enforcement officials at every level (local, municipal, state, federal) have limited resources, and simply cannot put the full weight of their efforts behind every case. There isn’t enough time, money, or resources to go around. Priorities have to be set, and the most egregious cases need to be pursued first. It’s akin to choosing to assign police detectives to find a serial murderer, rather than keep them on the streets ticketing jaywalkers.
The new rules President Obama announced last Friday are a temporary stopgap measure, designed to give some relief to many of the same people whom the DREAM Act was designed to help:
To qualify for prosecutorial discretion pursuant to the new policy, illegal immigrants must have entered before the age of 16, resided in the U.S. at least five years, are now attending or graduated from high school or served honorably in the military, are now 30 or under, and have never been convicted of a serious crime. Having received prosecutorial discretion, they can apply for work authorization.
This “work authorization” lasts for a period of two years, after which time an individual would have to reapply. This policy in no way grants “amnesty”, nor does it encourage more people to come to our country illegally. Nor does it alter anyone’s permanent status. Since this is a prosecutorial policy, rather than a change in the law, it can be reversed at any time by the next President — or even by this President.
It is certainly within the powers of the head of the Executive Branch to set priorities regarding who the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service spends its limited resources prosecuting. The President has decided that the people covered under these new rules are a far lower priority than, say, drug runners or arms merchants. That’s really the sum total of the President’s announcement.
Putting aside humanitarian, rational, and bipartisan considerations, this change in policy seems a smart political move. Despite his deportation record, President Obama holds a 34-point lead over Romney among registered Latino voters, 61 to 27 percent. Even Republicans acknowledge this is something of an overwhelming lead. Many analysis say that Romney would need to attract close to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the election.
Republicans seem unable to formulate a response. If they oppose this change in prosecutorial policy, then they come across as heartless and anti-immigrant, particularly anti-Hispanic, though other immigrant communities also recognize the value of immigration reform. Some partisans have been reduced to claiming this move will make bipartisan reform less likely (which seems confusing, since those same people killed the actual bipartisan bill). There is an attempt to paint it as unconstitutional, which is clearly absurd. But if anyone comes out in favor of the change, that would make President Obama seem to have done something reasonable, which goes against the narrative Republicans have been trying to mount since January of 2009.
Republican obstructionism has turned the Congress into nothing more than a place action goes to die. If it takes some unilateral discretion to get anything done these days, then so be it. Perhaps we should have more of that.
- Marco Rubio’s DREAM Act plan might be dead this year(miamiherald.com)
- After Quashing DREAM Act, Boehner Knocks Obama For Quashing DREAM Act(tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- Speaker Boehner bellyaches about how ‘difficult’ President Obama has made immigration reform(dailykos.com)
- FACT CHECK: Republicans Continue To Do Nothing On Immigration Reform(thinkprogress.org)
- Obama administration to offer Immunity to younger immigrants — Fox News(foxnews.com)
About dcpetterson (187 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson