11/02/2012 04:55 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Howard Berman: A Standard of Leadership on the DREAM Act

As the issue of immigration and the Latino vote takes center stage in the 2012 election cycle, Democrats are not shy about touting their support for the DREAM Act legislation that would create a path to legal status for undocumented students through college or the military. While the Republican Party is still stricken by the Tea Party flu, there is also some Republicans, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), jumping into the mix on immigration.

Although it is easy for politicians or candidates to deliver talking points on the DREAM Act, it is more difficult to see real leadership on the issue. Like U.S Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rep. Howard Berman has provided not only comforting rhetoric, but also legislative leadership on the DREAM Act and immigration in general.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) first introduced the Student Adjustment Act in 2001 together with Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT). The bill would eventually become the DREAM Act. Since then, Berman has been introducing the legislation time after time, speaking about it on the House floor and meeting with DREAMers.

On December 8, 2010, the House passed the DREAM Act, 216-98. During the vote, however, Rep. Berman vigorously defended the DREAM Act against attacks from anti-immigration hawk Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) as he called the DREAM Act amnesty and the students watching the vote criminals.

Recently, during a debate between Rep. Berman and Rep. Sherman, things got heated and physical as Rep. Sherman (D-CA) accused Rep. Berman of unjustifiably taking credit for the DREAM Act. The Democrat versus Democrat race has become one of the nation's most closely watched. The confrontation showed the DREAM Act becoming not only popular, but also a strong political weapon to have in your campaign arsenal. It was no surprise that Rep. Sherman got visibly agitated when Rep. Berman took credit for the bill.

Rep. Sherman has a respectable record on immigration, including voting in favor of the DREAM Act. Nevertheless, simply casting a vote versus going beyond the routine for passage of a bill is the significant difference between a champion and a just-let-me-vote politician.

Through his support of the DREAM Act, Rep. Berman has shown a knowledge of the economic needs of his constituency in California's new 30th district, as well as the broader needs of California in general: California, with 550,000 eligible for the DREAM Act, would have $97.7 billion added to its faltering state economy by 2030. This will result in additional tax revenues for the state, as well as jobs available even to those who would ordinarily consider themselves completely removed from the immigration debate.

In addition to introducing the DREAM Act, he also voted no on wasting resources to build a border fence, against helping the Minutemen vigilantes patrol the Mexican border, against using hospitalization records to tip off immigration officers about undocumented immigrants and yes on extending Immigration Residency rules to allow immigrants more time to apply for immigration status. When it came time to make a statement on SB 1070, Congressman Berman joined together with Rep. Grijalva and other members of Congress in signing off on the amicus brief against SB 1070, taking a hard stance against the discriminatory Arizona law.

The DREAM Act has also become prominent in the presidential election. Indeed, Mitt Romney has jumped on the bandwagon, recently releasing an ad announcing he would work to find a permanent solution for undocumented students. However, because of his far-right stance on immigration during the primaries (such as including promising to veto the DREAM Act, his stance on SB 1070, relationship with Joe Arpaio, etc.) he has been badly trailing President Obama with Latino voters.

A real leader stands for an issue even if it's not popular, trendy or spoken at major party conventions. Howard Berman has demonstrated, through countless years advocating for DREAMers, where his priorities lay. But this race provides an opportunity for both Rep. Berman and Rep. Sherman to continue to raise the bar for legislative leadership, not only on immigration, but also the many critical issues facing our country.