Don’t abandon “Dreamers”
It would be a shame for Congress to adjourn leaving the
“dreamers,” as they have come to be known, in a lurch. If a
handful of Republican Senators could find their way to a
compromise on immigration and border protection, approximately
two million model residents of the United States would get a path
toward citizenship. They have waited long enough.
While a xenophobic Republican base tends to stereotype all
undocumented immigrants as criminals and grifters, the dreamers
are neither. (Nor, for that matter, are most migrants.) They were
brought to the U.S. as children, and they have grown up thinking
of themselves as Americans — speaking English, making TikTok
dance videos, going to Independence Day cook-outs with their
families, learning American history in school. They know no other
Current rules state that, in order to qualify for citizenship,
dreamers must have proof they entered the country before the
age of 16, have lived in the U.S. at least five consecutive years,
have graduated from high school or completed a GED, and, if
male, have registered for the Selective Service. Some are
already serving in the U.S. Armed Forces or have completed
service. Some have started businesses. Many have finished
college, and some have earned graduate degrees. The nation
needs young men and women such as these.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 — a mere two
decades back but, politically, several generations ago — by Sen.
Dick Durban (D-Ill.) and the late Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). It has
been reintroduced several times since then but could never
muster the votes for passage as GOP voters became increasingly
hostile to immigrants of color. As the nation’s demographics have
shifted toward a browner nation, older whites have become more
resentful of any legislation that would pave the way toward
citizenship for people from the Caribbean or Latin America.
Still, a small bubble of hope has popped above the surface in
recent weeks, floating on the bi-partisan teamwork of Sens.
Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and a few of
their colleagues. According to The Washington Post, their
proposal includes features that each party would like, as well as
features that each party would resist. But that’s the way legislation
usually gets done: Neither side gets everything it wants, but
something is better than nothing.
Sinema and Tillis have proposed a pathway to citizenship for the
dreamers. In addition, they have proposed billions more for border
security, including funds to hire more agents and to give pay
increases to current agents. Their blueprint would also reform the
asylum process, increasing the number of judges who hear claims
so that those who are denied can be returned more quickly to
their native countries while those who are approved aren’t stuck
interminably in an unsympathetic bureaucracy.
This is hardly the comprehensive immigration reform that the
nation needs, but, again, it’s better than nothing. And it’s likely to
be the best we can hope for since Republicans will take over the
House majority in January, and their current leader, Kevin
McCarthy, has pledged no immigration reform until the border is
completely secure. He knows perfectly well that’s impossible.
Even a few North Koreans manage to escape their country every
year, though it is a heavily-patrolled prison state.
There are likely to be Democrats who will object to provisions in
the Sinema-Tillis blueprint, too. For example, it would temporarily
continue a COVID-related, Trump-era provision which restricts the
number of migrants who can apply for asylum. Some will find that
Still, the biggest hurdle to getting a limited immigration package
through is recalcitrant Republicans, either hardliners who want no
brown immigrants or cowards who fear being smeared by right-
wing talking heads as “soft” on immigration. Sinema and Tillis
should nevertheless do what they can to get nine more GOP
senators on board so they have the 60 votes they need. It’s worth
some late nights and arm-twisting.
The 117 th Congress has its hands full trying to buttress the gates
before the barbarians crash through. Lots for them to do. But
securing citizenship for the dreamers needs to be high on the list.