Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Republican Argument for the DREAM Act

Can you guess who made this straightforward and impassioned plea for the DREAM Act?

I rise today to introduce legislation that will help make the American dream a reality for many young people. ``The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act ,'' or ``The DREAM Act ,'' resolves immigration status problems that plague undocumented immigrants who came to our country as youths. It also removes barriers to education so that they are better equipped to succeed in our society.

   Each year, about fifty thousand young undocumented immigrants graduate from high school in the United States. Most of them came to this country with their parents as small children and have been raised here just like their U.S. citizen classmates. They view themselves as Americans, and are loyal to our country. Some may not even realize that they are here in violation of our immigration laws. They grow up to become honest and hardworking adolescents and young adults, and strive for academic as well as professional excellence.

   Many of these youngsters find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation. As illegal immigrants, they cannot work legally. Moreover, they are effectively barred from developing academically beyond high school because of the high cost of pursuing higher education. Private colleges and universities are very expensive, and under current federal law, state institutions cannot grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, regardless of how long they have resided in that state. To make matters worse, as illegal immigrants, these young people are ineligible for federal tuition assistance. Moreover, these young people have no independent way of becoming legal residents of the United States.

   In short, though these children have built their lives here, they have no possibility of achieving and living the American dream . What a tremendous loss to our society.

It is a tremendous loss to our society and so is the loss of any principled reasoning about immigration reform among Republicans in Congress. The man who made the above plea was Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah when he introduced the DREAM Act in the 108th Congress.

Senator Hatch’s argument for the DREAM Act is one that used to resonate with a number of Republican Senators, including John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and others. All of them sponsored the DREAM Act at one point or another. Now it is uncertain whether even Hatch still stands by his words. At this point, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) is the only Republican certain to vote for the DREAM Act, with Bob Bennett (R-UT) a possibility.

Nothing has changed about the moral argument for the DREAM Act since the 108th Congress. But today, instead of sponsoring the bill, the face of Republican thought on the subject is portrayed by the nativist demagoguery of Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. If that view holds sway, it will not only be a “tremendous loss to our society,” but a very likely demographic dead-end for the Republican party.