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Right for America or Wrong for Illegals? DREAM Act Takes Center Stage

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The most ardent proponents of the DREAM Act know their chances of victory in the next few weeks are slim, but they also know that failure is pretty much inevitable if they wait until next year. Thus we are in the midst of a full-court press on yet another cause that once had substantial bipartisan support, but may not any longer.

DREAM, expected to come up for a vote in the year-end lame-duck session of Congress, is catchy shorthand for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. Translation: The act would offer a path to citizenship – and economic prosperity -- for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children age 15 or younger. They'd have to have "good moral character," residency for at least five years, and a U.S. high school diploma or GED. Those who met the conditions would be eligible for military service, federal student loans, state aid and in-state tuition. After completing two years of college or military service, they would also be eligible for citizenship.

Right now, as Obama administration figures often put it, the doors of opportunity slam shut when these teenagers graduate from high school. They can't get federal college aid, they can't enlist in the military and they can't even work legally – all because of decisions made for them by others. Some of them don't even realize they're undocumented until they apply to college and need information to fill in forms. "Students end up shocked and in disbelief that they are not citizens of the only country they have ever known," Cecilia Munoz, director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House, said Monday in a Web chat. "It doesn't make sense to punish these students for the choices that their parents made."

You could not find more sympathetic protagonists in a public policy battle than conscientious students, and DREAM Act proponents are playing their individual stories to the hilt. On a conference call Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the issue became "very personal" to him during his seven-and-a-half-year tenure as head of the Chicago school system. He talked of the "total despair and desperation" of intelligent, hardworking high school graduates who had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, because of their illegal status. "I can't tell you how heartbreaking it was to witness that firsthand," he said.

The Munoz Web chat and the Duncan cameo, on a call sponsored by Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, kicked off the administration's public advocacy for the DREAM Act. Liberals planned a Tuesday call to push for passage. Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, issued a supportive statement. Newspaper editorial boards are also speaking out. The Wall Street Journal and the Sacramento Bee are among those making a case for the legislation.

While the human element is compelling, it's far from the only reason to support DREAM. The military wants it because it is an incentive for more people to join. Others say that, as Duncan put it, "we have to educate our way to a better economy." Up to 65,000 people a year would be eligible for the DREAM Act. That's a big pool of smarts, creativity and productivity that we could either start nurturing, or continue to waste.

If this seems like a no-brainer, forget it. We're talking about immigration in the age of hard-line anti-immigration laws and tea party clout within the Republican Party; an age where most Hispanics vote for Democrats and Democrats try to keep them happy, even if defeat is likely. So what are the real prospects?

In the House, much better this year, while Democrats are still in the majority, than next. In January, when Republicans take over, the chief immigration voice in the House is likely to be Rep. Steve King of Iowa, in line to head the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration. He recently called the DREAM Act "this special amnesty program, this affirmative action program for illegals." Killing it, he said, is "a top priority." He also wants to end birthright citizenship for babies born in the United States of illegal immigrant parents.

So – it's now or never in the House. How about the Senate? Sixty votes are needed, as Munoz explained Monday to disbelieving young people on her White House chat, just to get the bill to the floor. "People don't declare themselves until they have to," she said. "We know we're over 50 votes in the Senate. The question is how close are we to 60? We don't know the answer to that question yet."

There are seven Republicans in the Senate who voted for the DREAM Act in 2007. One of the seven, Richard Lugar of Indiana, is a chief sponsor – one of several stands he's taken that put him at odds with his party. Two are departing at the end of the year, Sam Brownback to be governor of Kansas and Bob Bennett because he was ousted by a tea party conservative in a primary contest. Three -- Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Olympia Snowe of Maine – face re-election in 2012 and have plenty of reason to be nervous about bucking the party. Hutchison lost a gubernatorial primary to the tea party-backed Rick Perry; Hatch witnessed Bennett's fate up close; and a tea party conservative just got elected governor in Snowe's state. The seventh is Susan Collins, also of Maine.

Other GOP senators who are leaving this year are George Lemieux of Florida (not there in 2007), George Voinovich of Ohio and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. It's conceivable that a vote or two could be found among them. Then there's Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She lost a primary to tea party candidate Joe Miller but apparently has won re-election as an independent – so she's theoretically free, even obligated, to follow her inclinations and not necessarily her party.

Also in play, or not, are seven Democratic senators who voted against the DREAM Act in 2007. One of them, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, is retiring and theoretically could vote however he wants. Three – Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Kent Conrad of North Dakota – face tough 2012 re-election battles in conservative states. The others – Max Baucus of Montana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – are also from conservative states and may be unlikely to switch. (Update: Politico reports that Pryor is a no and Utah's Bennett is a yes).

Democrats already are on track to lose at least one vote they had in 2007. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, running in 2012, says he's a "no" this time around. Jim Webb of Virginia (also a "yes" in 2007) and Joe Manchin of West Virginia will also be running next year in conservative states and haven't said how they'll vote. Two new Republican senators, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Mark Kirk of Illinois, are relatively moderate but it's unclear if they'd consider supporting DREAM.

Duncan said he is talking to people in both parties and "there's some real interest. There's a couple of people ... who have moved in the right direction." But Carlos Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary in the George W. Bush administration, sounded a cautionary note. While the DREAM Act is "right for the country," he said, speaking after Duncan on the conservatives' call, it will only fly if it is sold as a down payment on a larger solution to problems like border control. "This needs to be positioned as a first step in the comprehensive solution and not a substitute for a comprehensive solution," he said.

Democrats need far more than a couple of people, of course. And Republicans don't seem inclined to give Obama anything that might resemble a victory, no matter how the argument is framed or how much it would improve their standing with Hispanics. Still, trying to read the minds and discern the intentions of senators is a fool's errand. That's why the DREAM Act still has a ghost of a chance, and an army of advocates on the field.

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Jo

Interesting article by Steven A. Camarota is the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies. I am only posting a portion of it, the rest can be found at http://www.cis.org/dream-act-costs READ THE ARTICLE. THEN QUIT SITTING AROUND COMPLAINING TO THE REST OF US AND CONTACT YOUR SUPPOSED REPRESENTATIVES BECAUSE I'M SURE GOING TO. YOU CAN TAKE THE TIME TO TRACK DOWN THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS. LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, NOT SOME COMMENT BOARD. TIME IS SHORT, DO SOMETHING. Estimating the Impact of the DREAM Act By Steven A. Camarota November 2010 Memorandums This Memorandum examines the costs and likely impact of the DREAM Act currently being considered by Congress. The act offers permanent legal status to illegal immigrants up to age 35 who arrived in the United States before age 16 provided they complete two years of college. Under the act, beneficiaries would receive in-state tuition. Given the low income of illegal immigrants, most can be expected to attend state schools, with a cost to taxpayers in the billions of dollars. As both funds and slots are limited at state universities and community colleges, the act may reduce the educational opportunities available to U.S. citizens. Among the findings: •Assuming no fraud, we conservatively estimate that 1.03 million illegal immigrants will eventually enroll in public institutions (state universities or community colleges) as a result of the DREAM Act. That is, they meet the residence and age requirements of the act, have graduated high school, or will do so, and will come forward. •On average, each illegal immigrant who attends a public institution will receive a tuition subsidy from taxpayers of nearly $6,000 for each year he or she attends, for total cost of $6.2 billion a year, not including other forms of financial assistance they may also receive. •The above estimate is for the number who will enroll in public institutions. A large share of those who attend college may not complete the two full years necessary to receive permanent residence. •The cost estimate assumes that the overwhelming majority will enroll in community colleges, which are much cheaper for students and taxpayers than state universities. •The estimate is only for new students not yet enrolled. It does not include illegal immigrants currently enrolled at public institutions or those who have already completed two years of college. Moreover, it does not include the modest number of illegal immigrants who are expected to attend private institutions. •The DREAM Act does not provide funding to states and counties to cover the costs it imposes. Since enrollment and funding are limited at public institutions, the act's passage will require some combination of tuition increases, tax increases to expand enrollment, or a reduction in spaces available for American citizens at these schools. •Tuition hikes will be particularly difficult for students, as many Americans already find it difficult to pay for college. Research indicates that one out of three college students drops out before receiving a degree. Costs are a major reason for the high dropout rate. •In 2009 there were 10.2 million U.S. citizens under age 35 who had dropped out of college without receiving a degree. There were an additional 15.2 million citizens under age 35 who had completed high school, but never attended college. •Lawmakers need to consider the strains the DREAM Act will create and the impact of adding roughly one million students to state universities and community colleges on the educational opportunities available to American citizens. •Providing state schools with added financial support to offset the costs of the DREAM Act would avoid the fiscal costs at the state and local level, but it would shift the costs to federal taxpayers. •Advocates of the DREAM Act argue that it will significantly increase tax revenue, because with a college education, recipients will earn more and pay more in taxes over their lifetime. However, several factors need to be considered when evaluating this argument: ?Any hoped-for tax benefit is in the long-term, and will not help public institutions deal with the large influx of new students the act creates in the short-term. ?Given limited spaces at public institutions, there will almost certainly be some crowding out of U.S. citizens - reducing their lifetime earnings and tax payments. ?The DREAM Act only requires two years of college; no degree is necessary. The income gains for having some college, but no degree, are modest. ?Because college dropout rates are high, many illegal immigrants who enroll at public institutions will not complete the two years the act requires, so taxpayers will bear the expense without a long-term benefit.

December 03 2010 at 11:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jamie Warren

This is why I say NO! to this dream act/amnesty. I also have included the URL's for verification of all the following facts... 1. $11 Billion to $22 billion is spent on welfare to illegal aliens each year by state governments. Verify at: http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=iic_immigrationissuecenters7fd8 2. $2.2 Billion dollars a year is spent on food assistance programs such as food stamps, WIC, and free school lunches for illegal aliens. Verify at: http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/fiscalexec.HTML 3.$2.5 Billion dollars a year is spent on Medicaid for illegal aliens. Verify at: http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/fiscalexec.HTML 4. $12 Billion dollars a year is spent on primary and secondary school education for children here illegally and they cannot speak a word of English! Verify at: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANscriptS/0604/01/ldt..0.HTM 5. $17 Billion dollars a year is spent for education for the American-born children of illegal aliens, known as anchor babies. Verify at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANscriptS/0604/01/ldt.01.HTML 6. $3 Million Dollars a DAY is spent to incarcerate illegal aliens. Verify at: http://transcripts.cnn.com/%20TRANscriptS/0604/01/ldt.01.HTML 7. 30% percent of all Federal Prison inmates are illegal aliens. Verify at: http://transcripts.CNN.com/TRANscriptS/0604/01/ldt.01.HTML < The total cost is a whopping $ 338.3 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR AND IF YOU'RE LIKE ME, HAVING TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING THIS AMOUNT OF MONEY; IT IS $338,300,000,000.00 WHICH WOULD BE ENOUGH TO STIMULATE THE ECONOMY FOR THE CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY. So if this is what it has cost us for them being here illegally. How much more is going to cost us to let them stay?

December 02 2010 at 11:42 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jamie Warren's comment
Jo

Hey Jamie, Thanks for the websites listed above. I've only gotten to the fairus.org site and stumbled onto the aricle "The Costs to Local Taxpayers for Illegal Aliens" (http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=16723&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1007) and just about screamed when I found out that the 2004/5 figures for what legal Californian taxpayers were coughing up each year was almost $1200. and that was THEN! I will definately be checking out all of your other sites too. I also stumbled onto http://www.cis.org/dream-act-costs that you might want to check out. Thanks again.

December 03 2010 at 11:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Dream or nightmare? I, as most Americans, know many Mexican-Americans who have worked honorably and built self-supporting families here. It does not follow that our borders are to be ignored, or that those who flaut our laws should be accommodated by the likes of Harry Reid.

December 02 2010 at 8:37 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
tistolaugh

Any Republican in Congress who supports the spending of one dime on illegals during near 10% unemployment, other than to deport them, will be shown the door right along with Dems in 2012. Just so they know.

December 01 2010 at 11:24 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
cplkling

This should probably be called the (further) DRAIN Act as it is another tapping into our Social Safety Net by ILLEGAL immigrants. How long will it take for those that support illegals realize what a drain they are upon our system? If we looked at each individual example, my heart goes out for them as they have been taken advantage of by THEIR PARENTS!! Our Country is BROKE!!! We cannot afford to take in illegal immigrants or their children as they are a drain on Our Country. Deport them along with their parents and have them immigrate the way they are supposed to instead of breaking the law. This whole situation is bereft of Common Sense to even entertain the idea of giving a break to people that are in Our Country illegally.

December 01 2010 at 11:45 AM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
betheltownof

So it looks like the passage or failure of this depends on getting elected not what is best for the country.

December 01 2010 at 10:07 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
Bill

I've worked and paid taxes since my mid-teens I've served honorably in the military and am a disabled vet who has to beg for VA benefits. Why does our country pander to illegals who demand public assistance, schools, health care and free handouts? What is wrong with this thinking?

November 30 2010 at 2:56 PM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
marktateusa

If it doesn't send them back to where ever home is - even if the illegals had kids in our country - then it's not worth the paper it's written on.

November 30 2010 at 2:45 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
Tess

You already have job discrimation taking place. Notice the number of bilingual ads lately when many US schools do not teach Spanish? Face it: American citizens are being driven out of thier own nation. I'm not against immigration, but enough is enough. When you have other nations which require taking tests, knowing the language, and being sponsored, the US all you need to do is just cross over the border. While I feel bad for these kids, I feel badly for kids who are American citizens who cannot attend college due to rising costs and cannot find jobs. But of course the Democratic party could not give a toss about American kids. It's all about the votes and power...not what is right.

November 30 2010 at 2:31 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

"We don't hate you, we just want you to leave". - Mohatma Gandhi

November 30 2010 at 1:48 PM Report abuse +27 rate up rate down Reply

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