Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, North America

U.S.: Senate Democrats Push for Vote on DREAM Act

NEW YORK, Dec 1 2010 (IPS) - As immigrant advocate groups held marches, demonstrations and hunger strikes across the U.S. and feverishly lobbied lawmakers in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, announced he would file a motion Wednesday to permit the Senate to take up the DREAM Act, thus setting up a showdown over the controversial immigration bill.

The DREAM Act would provide thousands of young people with a path to citizenship, which could be granted to those who were brought to the U.S. when they were children and graduated from U.S. high schools. The requirement for citizenship would be earning a college degree or volunteering to serve in the U.S. military for two years.

The faith community is among constituencies advocating for passage of the law during the current so-called “lame duck” session of Congress.

Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders and organisations are ramping up the pressure on their senators and representatives to vote ‘yes’ on this legislation, which could come to the Senate floor as soon as this week.

On Wednesday, the faith community plans to bury Capitol Hill in telephone calls in support of the act and hold vigils and other public events in numerous states across the U.S.

In a telephone news conference, Rabbi Jack Moline, director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly and rabbi of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, said, “Every faith community in this country includes young men and women who are thoroughly American in everything but name, and every one of those communities understands the need to affirm in law what is true in fact.”

He added that DREAM “can make that happen and is an important step.” He asked for the active support of Virginia Senators James Webb and Mark Warner.

But passage promises to be an uphill fight. For example, Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said they will not vote for cloture on the bill.

But Republican Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana and Bob Bennett, who was defeated in his Utah primary race, have signaled they will vote for the act. The bill’s supporters are counting on a handful of other moderate Republicans.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who is up for reelection in 2012, also predicted that Republicans “could take a hit at the polls if they continue to oppose immigration reform.”

Passage is still considered a long shot, but more likely now than next year when Republicans will have a majority in the House and increased strength in the Senate.

The measure’s supporters have also been kept busy attempting to refute what they call the “lies and misinformation” being circulated by anti-immigration advocates.

For example, the measure’s critics contend that defeating the act must be, in the words of Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, “a top priority before it provides an uncontrollable citizenship path to thousands of illegal immigrants.”

“This is an out-of-control immigration path,” King said. “We need to fence that in and limit it to direct family members.”

A rebuttal came from Margaret Stock, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“These are bizarre statements by Rep. King. He is apparently unfamiliar with Title 8 of the U.S. Code,” she told IPS.

“DREAM Act beneficiaries get conditional green cards, not U.S. citizenship,” she noted. “By law, a person with a conditional green card can only sponsor his/her unmarried children and his/her spouse. That’s been the law for decades.”

She also de-bunked another myth surrounding the act. “There are no immigrant visas at all for ‘extended family’ members, whatever that means,” she said.

To provide additional ammunition for the bill’s supporters, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) released a new study, “Ineffective and Unjust: Our Broken Immigration System.”

The study says, “As Muslim Americans presenting a faith- based perspective to one of our nation’s biggest public policy challenges, we look to the Qur’an for moral guidance. In order to best satisfy the public interest, referred as maslaha in Islamic thought, we believe there are four values guiding our comprehensive immigration reform strategy. They are: Human Dignity, The Rule of Law, Enforcement, and Fiscal Responsibility.” The study says, “Those who argue against earned legalisation believe it rewards undocumented individuals at the expense of those waiting to come legally, and argue it may become a magnet for future flows of unauthorised migrants. Others still, argue immigration harms native-born American workers’ wages and job prospects.”

The study says this perspective “reflects legitimate concerns” but fails to take into account several important points. “First, it misidentifies the root causes for unauthorised immigration. As noted earlier, the current legal immigration system is characterised by unrealistic quotas and bureaucratic inefficiencies. This creates perverse incentives for undocumented immigration. Additionally, legal enforcement has been insufficient and ineffective.” “Second, it ignores the existing reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. Mass deportation is extremely costly.”

The study was carried out by Alejandro J. Beutel, MPAC’s government liaison, Aziza Hasan, southern California government relations director, and Maher Hathout, an MPAC senior advisor.

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