It enjoys bipartisan support, and is backed by leaders in education, the military, and business, as well as by religious communities such as the Evangelical movement, the Jewish community and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
So, why is the measure controversial?
For one, these young people are in the U.S. illegally, and issues related to illegal immigration tend to generate more heat than light. But let’s be clear: these kids came with their parents and can hardly be held responsible for decisions made when they were still in diapers. They then proceeded to grow up in America and do all that was asked of them – learn English, finish high school with good grades, and aspire to great things. Do we really want to pursue the alternative to the DREAM Act, which is to deport these valedictorians and ROTC members to countries they don’t even remember?
Evidently, some do. Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (R-LA) took to the Senate floor this week to strongly oppose the bill. He started up the right-wing sound-bite machine, claiming that DREAM was an “amnesty measure” that would “reward bad behavior.” But Vitter, who knows something about bad behavior (and should know even more about glass houses), has the DREAM Act all wrong.
The bill details a rigorous process by which those eligible have to meet stringent age, character, and educational and military service requirements to earn legal status. This isn’t about amnesty, it’s about accountability. The bill sets out a well-designed obstacle course that will produce fine young citizens out of those who make it through.
The second reason the Senate vote has become controversial is that the DREAM Act will be considered as an amendment to the defense bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-KY) called the DREAM amendment “extraneous” and said it has “nothing to do” with the military. Senator John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Meghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' MORE (R-AZ), who up until this Congress was a longstanding co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, argued that DREAM was “totally unrelated to national defense.”
Wrong again. The FY2010-12 Strategic Plan for the Department of Defense’s Office of the Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness recommends passage of the DREAM Act, in order to help the military “shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force.” According to Louis Caldera, former Secretary of the Army, “The DREAM Act will materially expand the pool of individuals qualified, ready and willing to serve their country in uniform… I have no doubt many of these enlistees will be among the best soldiers in our Army.“
According to Margaret Stock, (Ret.) Lieutenant Colonel in the Military Police Corps, U.S. Army Reserve, “Passage of the DREAM Act would directly benefit American national defense by enlarging the pool of highly qualified, US-educated ‘green card’ recruits for the US Armed Forces.”
In fact, the DREAM Act has traditionally been a bipartisan effort. Its lead sponsors in the Senate are Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin: Negotiators to miss Friday target for deal on reconciliation bill Democrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats MORE (D-IL), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and the House bill was authored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL). In the 108th Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-3 in favor of the DREAM Act with support from current Republican Senators Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-UT) (who helped draft the legislation), Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 MORE (R-IA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-TX). The DREAM Act was also included in comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2006, as an amendment from Senator Graham in the Judiciary Committee, and ultimately 23 Republican Senators voted for that bill.
But this is Washington, and these days the pursuit of power trumps common sense and good policy. Republicans in the Senate are under continuing and intense pressure to block any and all progress on any and all fronts. And so members who in the past have supported the DREAM Act are road-testing excuses. It’s about procedures. It’s about timing. It’s about the vehicle. It’s about politics. But what it really seems to be about is getting to “no” for cynical political reasons.
Okay, so let’s talk politics, and bluntly. Republicans, this may be your last chance with Latino voters for some time. If you can’t find a way to support this limited measure to help young immigrant children attend college and serve in our military, most of whom are Latino, you will be telling Latino immigrants to go to hell. You will make it nearly impossible for your 2012 Presidential nominee to win the 40 percent of Latino votes he or she will need to win back the White House. And you will accelerate your “success” at turning socially conservative Latinos into lifelong Democrats.
Wouldn’t it be better to make the dreams of 800,000 young people come true?
Frank Sharry is the Executive Director of America's Voice.