On Monday, President Obama met with members of his Domestic Policy Council to discuss how to move forward with a comprehensive reform of our federal immigration system. The LA Times reports that the White House may recruit Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to craft a "blueprint" that could be used for legislation. Ultimately, Obama will leave it up to Congress to overhaul our immigration laws.
It's unlikely that the House will pass reform first. Last December, a group of House Democrats introduced a bill to lay the foundation for large-scale immigration reform, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear that she's looking to the Senate to take the lead on this controversial issue.
So what's Schumer waiting for? Sen. Schumer says he's scrambling to find a single Republican co-sponsor other than Graham to support the effort. This will be tough, to say the least. Lately, right-wing rhetoric on immigration policy has focused almost exclusively on the need for increased immigration enforcement, or fueled public skepticism about whether reform is feasible during economic recovery.
The clock is ticking: advocates agree that any proposal must move this spring, before Congress' attention shifts to mid-term elections and away from controversial issues like immigration reform.
But Congress can act now on a critical immigration measure that has enjoyed bi-partisan support since 2001. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) creates a path to citizenship for undocumented students who entered the U.S. as children, provided they have finished high school and attend college or serve in the military. Passing the DREAM Act would better enable hardworking students to attend college, find good jobs and further contribute to our economy and society. The DREAM Act would not completely overhaul our immigration system. The bill would only affect students who entered the U.S. before 16 years of age; the Senate version includes an extra requirement that the student be under age 35.
An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate high school each year to face an uncertain future in this country. Without legal status, these students cannot win scholarships, financial aid, or work legally to help pay for college. Only 10 to 20 percent of those who graduate high school are able to enroll in higher education. Though the bill directly affects a fraction of the undocumented population, it's in our shared interest to see that it goes forward. Recent analysis shows that passing the DREAM Act would boost our economy, strengthen our workforce and expand the middle class.
Since its introduction nine years ago, the DREAM Act has received support from lawmakers of both parties. In 2007, the bill was just 8 votes away from the sixty necessary to proceed with debate. The Senate voted 52-44 in favor, with the support of Kay Bailey Hutchison, Sam Brownback, and several other Republicans. The bill was reintroduced in March 2009 by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN); Congressmen Howard Berman (D-CA), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced a similar version in the House.
Members of Congress need to step up and support this bi-partisan reform effort. We can't let Washington's political gridlock get in the way of providing a path to citizenship for thousands of undocumented youth. We've already invested taxpayer dollars in their high school education---passing the DREAM Act is the best way to invest in their future.
Follow Afton Branche on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AftonBrancheDMI