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Reid’s Bold Move on Immigration Reform

From Arizona’s SB1070 to Obama’s $600 million border security bill, this year's immigration policy landscape has been completely dominated by enforcement. But yesterday, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) changed course: Reid announced that the upcoming Defense Department authorization bill will be amended to include the DREAM Act. The legislation, sponsored by a bipartisan coalition that includes Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), offers conditional legal status to undocumented students who entered the U.S. as children. In addition, the bill creates a path to citizenship for these students who agree to attend college or serve in the military.

Next week’s vote is an opportunity for lawmakers to come together on one of our country’s most divisive issues. By offering legal status to undocumented students, the DREAM Act would better enable them to access college education, secure higher paying jobs and contribute more in taxes to our economy. And by advancing the economic integration of immigrant families, the DREAM Act will ultimately serve to strengthen and expand the middle class.

The DREAM Act is not a “massive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants,” a favored charge of immigration restrictionists. In reality, the bill only targets a fraction of the nation’s undocumented population. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that of the 2.1 million young adults eligible to apply, only around 825,000 people would actually gain permanent legal status. Although the DREAM Act could affect only a select portion of the undocumented population, we should all hope Congress finds the political will to vote for it.

Despite the clear imperative to pass the Act, several top Republicans have found reasons to shoot it down. Immigration hawk Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) cautions that the DREAM Act is a “nightmare for the American people.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a past cosponsor, told Politico he wouldn’t vote for it because “he doesn't believe it's appropriate to add the measure to a defense bill.” However, as ThinkProgress blogger Andrea Nill points out, this legislation is closely connected to our defense and military interests—it was even included in the Department of Defense FY2010-12 Strategic Plan.

The most common charge against Reid’s plan is that it’s a cunning political move, launched just before midterm elections to appease voters dissatisfied with Democrats' actions on this issue. Perhaps this is true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also the right thing to do, for both undocumented students and the country they call home.

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Posted at 6:34 PM, Sep 15, 2010 in Immigration
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