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Immigration Reform 2021: Dream Act

Author: NYC Immigration lawyer Alena Shautsova

Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsay Graham brought forth another DREAM… They have proposed more bipartisan legislation that intends to give many young, undocumented immigrants ferried into the US as children a pathway to citizenship.

After being sworn in, President Biden’s office immediately sounded a more welcoming tone than that of the callous policies of removal, detainment and separation. The next step was to get down to business.

The legislation put to congress is but another iteration of The Dream Act, a package of measures that, aside from much else, seek to grant undocumented migrants lawful permanent residence if particular standards are met. Under the prospective changes, applicants will have to prove they were brought to the US before they were 16 and have been resident continuously for five years. They must have graduated a US high school, be of good moral character, and without a criminal background. If this is so then there a green card will be issued! That’s the idea.

This same piece of legislation, due to be erred over for the next few months, has hit the floor of the US legislature continually for almost 15 years. It has been rejected as a standalone bill, and as part of larger proposals. A whopping five times. Each failure was given the same roundabout reasoning by some sect or other - to pass what could be seen as an ‘amnesty’ bill on “illegal” immigration could send an encouraging message to outsiders who were considering making that journey over the border.

The legislature has been wrestling with what to do about undocumented citizens since I can remember. According to the Pew Research centre, more than 10 million undocumeted immigrants are living in the US today. Most of these people are from Central or South America. They work, spend and contribute to their communities.

The approach of the Trump administration was to rid the United States of these people, regardless of individual circumstance. Biden seeks to absorb many of these men, women, and children into the fabric of US society.

The legislature has been attempting to agree on a way forward. It simply can’t.

In 2005, a bipartisan immigration bill was put to Congress by Senator John McCain. This bill held provisions for the legalization of undocumented citizens. It flopped. In 2006, the legislature couldn’t agree on a similar set of proposals.

Another reform plan was discussed in 2007 but wasn’t voted on. Finally, in 2013 the Senate passed a major immigration bill, supported by the so-called Gang of Eight. However, the sitting Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner blocked any further vote from taking place and the bill was crushed.

In 2019, Sen. Graham proposed a very similar Dream Act of 2019, but it also did not see the light. The 2019 was a bit more liberal in that it had lesser age restrictions and required only 4 and not 5 years of presence in the US.

Today, Democrats hold the House. It is likely that any bill, or wider package of immigration reform, would get the OK from Congressmen. That cannot be said for the Senate. Democrats don’t have the votes to beat off any filibuster or foul play in the Senate. There, Democrats hold their lead by a tether.

The GOP is less aligned with the ideals of conservative pragmatism. Identity politics now plays a large role in the modern GOP. It is felt by many that much of the party remains the party of Donald Trump. Disregarding the validity of this statement, many Senators have been incredibly supportive of the Trump administration and continue to be, however shyly.

Senator Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said this of Trump and the views of his colleagues:

Some people simply didn’t appreciate his style, but they did appreciate the results that he got… Others liked him for the way he did it as well.

The fact that support remains for an ex- President who presided over the most stringent immigration initiatives in modern US history would suggest to me that, if a Dream Act (or other similar legislation) were to fall before the Senate it would be met with crushing opposition. This would be for the same reason other recent reforms met their doom – a fear of sending a message of encouragement to undocumented immigrants.

Of course, the proposals put forward should have no fear of sending that message. The Dream Act only makes provision for young people who were brought to the US before they became adults. It can be assumed that the great majority of the prospective applicants under the Act’s provisions will have been doing something to sustain themselves, and maybe even others. And failing to pass these provisions, based on the belief it sends an encouraging message to opportunists afar, makes no sense. It is predicated on the idea that foreigners are likely to want (and in large number too) to travel to the US and live as an undocumented immigrant for the sole benefit of their children. Under the proposals, the average undocumented immigrant remains unable to legally support their family. They will continue to suffer economic, legal and health insecurity as part of being undocumented.

Any argument about messaging is a logical non-starter. The benefits are not there. The burdens, the risks… they remain.

09 February 2021
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