ROBERT ROMERO
Assistant Professor of Chicana/o Studies

Juan Rocha
Alumnus of the UCLA School of Law and a Deputy Federal Public Defender in Arizona

JUDY LONDON
Adjunct Law Professor and Directing Attorney of the Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project

By Judy London

Why did the DREAM Act fail? For months, super achievers were everywhere, outing themselves as undocumented and convincing a majority of Americans that they belong in this country. It is hard to imagine anything more that these students could have done to further their cause.

Sen. Richard Durbin also showed tremendous leadership. He fought tirelessly to promote the DREAM Act, urging his fellow senators to show courage with their votes. He spoke eloquently about the students he had met who would benefit from the Act, displaying on the Senate floor blown-up photographs of the talented youth whose activism had brought them so close to victory.

In contrast, President Obama kept the dreamers at arm’s length for far too long. While his support for dreamers shifted into high gear as the DREAM Act vote neared, his most visible achievement was the increase in deportations under his watch: nearly 400,000 deportations in 2010, 10 percent more than the number of deportations under Bush in 2008, and 25 percent more than in 2007.

After the DREAM Act failed, the president spoke passionately about his disappointment. He reminded the American people that we are a nation of immigrants, that we will be a lesser nation for punishing children for decisions over which they had no say, and that we will all suffer by preventing the dreamers from contributing their many talents to our country.

If only President Obama had engaged American voters on the DREAM Act from the start of his presidency. Hopefully, the president now realizes that no amount of enforcement will satisfy the right when it comes to immigration.

It is time to take the offensive and build a strategy of promoting immigrants rather than promoting their deportation. It is time to shape the debate and build a political climate which will see the DREAM Act become law.

In the meantime, the current administration must use its administrative powers to protect the thousands of young people whose contributions this country desperately needs. There is plenty that can be done short of congressional action, if only there is the will.

By Robert Chao Romero

I am greatly saddened and angered by Congress’ recent failure to pass the DREAM Act. I have found that many of my brightest and hardest working students are “dreamers.”

Because they are not allowed to receive public financial aid, they often work 30 to 40 hours a week, commute 100 miles a day on public transportation, experience quasi-homelessness, sleep in their cars, and skip meals so that they can pay for their education.

Their professional choices and opportunities to attend graduate school are also extremely limited after graduation because of their legal status.

If the federal DREAM Act would have passed, this all would have changed.

I believe that the DREAM Act did not pass in the Senate for lack of a moral compass and because undocumented students were scapegoated for votes.

A fundamental philosophical and religious principle is that no one should be punished for an action for which they had no control. “If the parents eat sour grapes the children’s teeth should not be set on edge.”

In the same way, undocumented college students should not be punished for crossing a border when they had no decision in the matter. Most undocumented college students were brought to the United States when they were children and so it is immoral to punish them by restricting their access to education.

The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged this almost three decades ago on the part of K-12 students in Plyler v. Doe. It is time for the justice and legal reasoning of Plyler to be extended to the university setting.

I believe that most members of Congress are aware of the moral virtue of the DREAM Act. I think they chose not to vote for it because they were afraid of turning off much of the Republican voter base and constituents of the influential Tea Party movement. Dreamers were scapegoated for votes.

By Ivan Light

The regrettable defeat of the DREAM Act in Congress reflects a long-term, polarizing spiral of hostility between the Republican Party and Latino voters.

Captured by its social conservative wing on this issue, the national Republican Party has become the party of nativist opposition to Latino immigration. Assuming that role, the Republican Party appointed itself the enemy of Latino voters, many who might otherwise have supported its celebration of family values and low taxes.

The Republicans imprudently rejected a high-growth voting bloc.
Now, as a result of this rejection, the Republican Party really has something to fear from Latino immigrants: a large influx of Democratic voters into Republican-controlled states. November’s crushing defeat of the entire GOP slate of statewide candidates in California owed much to the overwhelming preference of Latino voters for the Democratic Party, and the Republicans know it.

On their side, the Latino voters have apparently concluded that the Republican Party is their enemy. Now look at the world from the Republican point of view. The Latinos who demolished the Republican Party in California could well accomplish the same demolition in the Republicans’ Sunbelt and Western sanctuaries when their numbers increase. The result would be the realignment to the left of the entire political spectrum in the United States.

It’s an epochal moment in American history. As Latino immigrants break out of their traditional settlement areas, notably California, which they are increasingly doing, they threaten Republican political control of key Sunbelt and Western states that long were reliably in the GOP’s pocket.

From that Republican vantage point, the Latino immigrants have become a political threat. The rejection of the DREAM Act was the work of politicians who have decided that Latino voters are their opponents rather than a potential constituency to attract or to mollify by granting them small favors such as the DREAM Act.

By Juan Rocha

When the Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act last month, some applauded the Senate’s action because, for them, the act was nothing more than a form of amnesty, even if it applied only to undocumented students.

Others criticized the Senate for failing to grasp the social and economic contributions these undocumented students would have on this country’s future.

Though critics and supporters differ on their critique of the Senate, one thing they both have in common is that they see themselves as advocating in a historical vacuum ““ as though the DREAM Act has no precedent.

But something similar to the DREAM Act was passed 25 years ago: the Immigration Reform and Control Act.

If supporters of the DREAM Act wish to show the positive impact such a measure would have and gain allies from the other side, it would behoove them to bring stories of the “IRCA-Dreamers” to light.

Since IRCA was a comprehensive immigration law, it included undocumented students who, like today’s “Dreamers,” were brought to the United States as children by their parents. Moreover, its provisions functioned much the same way as those found in the DREAM Act.

IRCA, for instance, did not automatically grant U.S. citizenship to undocumented persons living in the United States. On the contrary, like the DREAM Act, IRCA provided a path to U.S. citizenship to undocumented persons living in the United States if they met and satisfied certain requirements.

Despite these similarities between the two, the students who benefited from the passage of IRCA are never mentioned in the current public policy debate.

I know of one person they can start with. Like many of today’s undocumented students, his parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was three years old, in 1979. IRCA allowed him to apply for legal permanent residency, which he was granted in 1987, and in 1995, he became a naturalized citizen.

Later he attended and graduated from the UCLA School of Law, and today works as a federal attorney. A few years ago, he established a college scholarship at his high school alma mater, which he named after two of his school teachers. He also volunteers to speak to high school students about the importance of education, and is involved in civic organizations.

I could never have achieved any of this without Congress passing IRCA. Indeed, IRCA created a class of men and women ““ students and blue-collar workers ““ who have contributed immensely and positively to this country.

My generation of undocumented folk can attest to how a small act of Congress can have humongous results; and, moreover, how civil discourse over immigration reform can help transform society, as opposed to creating an environment of fear and suspicion, (which is conducive to promoting acts like the one in Tucson, Ariz. last week).

IRCA, then, is the standard against which the Dream Act should be measured against when Congress decides to reconsider it. In fact, it’s the precedent Congress should use to consider a comprehensive immigration reform.
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