When I was eight years old, I knew my family, my neighbors and some of my elementary school classmates. I knew we lived in Boston, scarcely understood Massachusetts and had no sense of nations or nation-states. If my parents had decided to move, we would have moved, no questions asked. As told in the New York Times today, Benita Veliz, 25, graduated from college in San Antonio and wants to go to law school. She came here through no decision of her own at the age of eight, the child of illegal immigrants. She is faced with deportation, her dreams shattered by the failure once again of Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for people like her.
There are thousands of students like Benita, the kind of hard-working people seeking to improve themselves or serve the country, the kind whom we would want to become upstanding tax-paying citizens, to strengthen our workforce and/or our military. They are talent to be embraced.
The Dream Act would give certain undocumented individuals, who had come here as children and lived here for several years prior to consideration under the bill, the ability to gain legal status, either through college or military service. As Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow told the Globe’s Renee Loth, turning our backs on such students by not passing the Dream Act is “ not only morally wrong but wrong-headed.” Also writing for the Globe, Rob Anderson could find no college president opposed to the legislation.
It seems such a no-brainer. The Dream Act’s failure is a sad reflection on the politics of the day. Support for the bill used to be bipartisan. Now former supporters like Senators John McCain of Arizona, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have done a 180 and, faced with harshly conservative opponents, have left the Benita Velizes out in the cold. Opponents called the Dream Act amnesty, which is echoed by Senator Scott Brown in a statement.
It’s too bad that Brown, in charting his independent course, felt the need here to succumb to such nativist arguments. Not all Republicans did. Indiana Senator Richard Lugar voted yes, as did Utah Senator Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She supported the Act but felt it was doomed to fail because the Democrats had restricted debate and amendments. The vote failed by five votes, but it need not have. Five Democrats voted against bringing it to the floor, and one took a walk, so there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Texas Senator John Cornyn says the bill would have allowed illegal immigrants with criminal records to obtain citizenship. But that seems to be a red herring. The bill, which was first proposed nearly a decade ago, says that eligible high school graduates would have to be of good moral character. That term, in immigration law, is quite specific in barring people who have committed any of a laundry list of crimes. If there’s any doubt that there is a loophole, then the Congress should fix it and pass the Dream Act next session. But I fear, as I wrote September 29 about comprehensive immigration reform, whenever objections are met opponents move the goal posts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the Dream Act would be a down-payment on a comprehensive immigration reform, which may make passage all the more challenging in the next Congress, expected to be well to the right of Congress today. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner sheds tears every time he thinks of giving young people an opportunity to achieve “the American dream.” It remains to be seen whether his tears are those of selfish referential gratitude, acknowledging what he personally has been able to achieve, or whether he’s serious about opening up the American Dream to thousands of worthy young people who have much to contribute to us and our economy.
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