A Field of Broken Dreams

Social issues on their way to becoming legislation have a way of becoming identified by a catchy metaphor that captures their objectives. It’s usually intentional, like the DREAM Act, an apropos label if there ever was one. And if there ever was a piece of legislation that merited passage, it was this, with all the elements to ease some of the problems created by the
influx of illegal immigrants and provide a positive, if partial, solution to this illicit diaspora besetting the nation.

But it was not to be.

For reasons that defy common sense, probably because it was politicians acting like politicians, they killed the DREAM Act

It might be a death knoll in its present form for this innovative legislation, a sidebar of the stillborn comprehensive immigration reform, even though proponents claim they will continue to pursue its objectives.

They have been trying for more than 10 years, and the situation doesn’t get any better or the prospects any brighter. 

The DREAM Act is the acronym for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. 

For years, legislators have been tussling with the problem of illegal aliens, most of them Latino and Mexican. Some politicians can make or break their careers on such issues, particularly in Latino-flush southwest states. 

A Pew Hispanic Center survey says that about four in five of the nation’s estimated 11.1 million “unauthorized” immigrants are of Hispanic origin. 

President Obama ran on the plank that he would solve the illegal migration problem but has not articulated clearly what kind of innovative approach he had in mind, except to deal in generalities, eager to maintain the Latinos’ allegiance but careful not to antagonize the anti-immigration forces. 

During his first two years in office, his administration saw the greatest number of deportations, almost 800,000, which pleased one element but antagonized the other wanting a more benevolent, practical solution.

It didn’t impress or soften up Republicans and antiimmigration forces, which rejected the supposedly quid pro quo strategy – but at least give the president credit for trying. 

The DREM Act is a cousin of the comprehensive immigrant bill, but it has been around longer and, considering the elements, one would think more pliable and attractive.

Its legislative history says otherwise. 

The legislation was first introduced in 2001 and, over the years, reintroduced and tinkered with, but failing at every turn to find some compatibility for passage among the political forces. 

The DREAM Act would give alien students a temporary, six-year residency on the path to citizenship, if they came to the U.S. before the age of 16, had been in the country for five years, graduated from high school, have no criminal record and attended college or served in the military for at least two years. 

This legislation seems a no-brainer; a win-win situation for everyone, when you weigh the pros against the cons and the failed attempts in the past to reconcile the problem with the incentives contained in the DREAM Act.

There are thousands of children of illegal aliens, largely Latinos, in the U.S., many with the will and the smarts to excel in academics but who are hampered by their inherited civil status.

Some may be the smartest kids on the block and even be pushed by their underground parents to excel in academics that prepare them for a better, more productive life, making them contributors instead of a burden to society. 

However, regardless of potential and ambition, they live in the shadows by virtue of their circumstances, never knowing when and if they will be exposed and, a nightmare for many, deported.

Forced to live on the fringes of society, many see no hope or opportunity and opt for or are led toward a less desirable environment or activity, while the entire U.S. community suffers the collective downside of such deprivations. 

It’s hard to understand why some of the legislators are so much against it, other than to accept that they are following the will of a national constituency that is telling them to clamp down on illegal immigration, Latinos and others be damned. 

This time, the legislation came close to passing. The House of Representatives approved it 216 to 198, which buoyed expectations. It, however, fell five votes short in the Senate, 55-41, to advance it to a floor debate. 

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the bill’s sponsor and its longtime defender, pleaded with his colleagues that the bill was about “thousands of children in America who live in the shadows and dream of greatness.

“This is the only country they have ever known. All they are asking for is a chance to serve this nation.” 

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said 65,000 children of illegal aliens who graduate from American high schools every year would be impacted, unable to use their education or serve their country, “left with a dead end and relegated to the shadows by their status.” 

The mood among some of the more vocal Republicans was adamantly against easing the circumstances of the illegal youth or even working out a compromise – and it has been that way throughout the life of the bill. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who has led the opposition, claims, “this is an amnesty bill because it provides every possible benefit, including citizenship, to those who are in this country illegally.” 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was more direct, telling his fellow senators, “You’re wasting your time. We are not going to pass the DREAM Act or any other immigration bill until we secure our borders.” 

It was heart-wrenching to see images of young Latino students attending the Senate session, desperately hoping for an opportunity to make things right and doing the only thing they could do when our lawmakers failed them.

They broke down and cried.