Last week in The Citizen, Roxanne Patel Shepelavy described how Philadelphia welcomed refugees sent here on a bus by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. She wrote:
That greeting — dignity, respect, kindness — is one our city offers to refugees continuously. Last year, most visibly, we welcomed Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban. That time, the flood of people who signed up to volunteer with the Nationalities Services Center was almost more than the organization could handle.
On Friday, two more buses of migrants arrived here from Texas. It’s more than likely more buses will come. (Maybe next time, Gov. Abbott will at least provide water to the voyagers for the hours-long drive.)
Immigration reform is essential in this land where the Statue of Liberty is still iconic. But that reform has long seemed out of reach. Still, there’s one issue with particular urgency: the plight of DACA students (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA students, known as DREAMers, were brought to the United States as children. Most have attended U.S. schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. All — according to recent estimates, there are currently close to 2 million DREAMers — have been living in limbo for years.
The 2022 lame duck Congressional session starting this week may be their last chance for some degree of security in the only home they have ever known.
In my years as a university president and faculty member, I have worked with and taught many DREAMers. I have watched these young people serve as student government presidents, school newspaper editors, star academic performers, talented theatrical actors, and gifted athletes. They are our students. Deporting them to a country they have never known would be both disgraceful and cruel.
Everyone can agree on one thing
It is clear that most Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including President Biden, yearn for a bipartisan solution to U.S. immigration. But our elected officials just can’t seem to get it done.
“Build a wall that Mexico will pay for!” is a rallying cry, not a policy.
Yet, Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican who represents the largest portion of the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, is in frequent conversation with Democrats who support border safeguards, including sending migrants who do not qualify for asylum back to their country of origin. Last year, he and Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, proposed a Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, S. 1358. But, like its many precursors, that Act seems to be going nowhere.
In 2013, after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill, then-House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it to a vote on the House floor because of backlash from members of his own party. The bill went nowhere, a failure Boehner later said was one of his greatest disappointments.
In 2005, John McCain and Ted Kennedy worked together tirelessly (and futilely) for immigration reform. As Matthew Soerens wrote in The Hill after the Senator from Arizona’s death, “McCain and Kennedy were models of the bipartisan cooperation possible when statesmen put national priorities above political calculations.”
The DREAM Act and the urgency of passing it now
In 2001, another unlikely bipartisan pair, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Orrin Hatch, introduced the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors).
According to the American Immigration Council:
Over the last 20 years, at least 11 versions of the Dream Act have been introduced in Congress. While the various versions of the bill have contained some key differences, they all would have provided a pathway to legal status for undocumented people who came to this country as children. Some versions have garnered as many as 48 co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate and 152 in the House of Representatives.
Each of the 11 bills had bipartisan support; none has become law. The 2010 bill almost made it but lacked five votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
Given the long, heartbreaking history of Congressional stalemate, on June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order titled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The goal was to provide a stopgap measure until Congress could find a way to provide legal status to DREAMers.
After a decade, Congress has not found that way — even though, according to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Americans support legal status for people from other countries who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Despite this popular support, Trump, when he was President, repeatedly attempted to end DACA. Under the Biden administration, Trump’s supporters have continued opposition to DACA with ongoing legal challenges, which are likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s shameful that anti-immigration ideologues have created insecurity and fear in the lives of young people who see America as their only home and have contributed to American society through hard work in school and in careers. The Dream Act would allow DACA students to serve in the U. S. military, honoring a long tradition of immigrants putting their lives on the line for the public good.
Many states have independently provided help for DACA students. In the 2022 midterm elections Arizona (yes, Arizona!) passed Proposition 308, joining 19 other states in allowing DREAMers to pay in-state university and college tuition. To our discredit, Pennsylvania does not have such a law on the books, although Penn State’s Residency Policy independently accommodates DREAMers.
Urge Senate and House members to pass DREAMer legislation before Christmas
The urgency is great. The U.S. House now supports DREAMer legislation, but no one can count on continuing House support under the 2023 Republican majority, slim though it may be. Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin is currently making one last desperate attempt to obtain a filibuster-proof majority for the DREAM Act in the 50-50 lame duck Senate.
Outgoing Senator Pat Toomey, where are you? In 2017, you said it was okay for President Trump to pull back on DACA because it was up to Congress to act. You won’t be returning to your seat next year: Why not do the right thing, and support these all-American kids?
Passing the DREAM Act would be a sign of return to civil society
I keep hoping that the 2022 election results are signs that a majority of Americans are tired of political sloganeering and instead yearn for real solutions to complex problems. Yes, we need to secure our borders. But “Build a wall that Mexico will pay for!” is a rallying cry, not a policy. On immigration, gun responsibility, reproductive rights, and other issues, slogans drown out what most people want: reasonable, commonsense, humane legislation.
All I want for Christmas is at least one piece of legislation adhering to those standards. Is it necessary to believe in Santa Claus to think that it could possibly happen? Congress, please pass the DREAM Act.
Things we can do:
- Call or write to Senator Toomey’s office and urge him to vote for the DREAM Act and to rally fellow Republicans to form a ten-vote filibuster-proof majority.
- Call or write all Congressional representatives to give priority to the DREAM Act during the December lame duck session.
- Urge the Pennsylvania legislature to join 20 other states in offering in-state tuition at all state public colleges and universities to DREAMers.
- In every possible venue, support reasonable, common sense, and humane solutions to problems.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
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Photo by Victoria Pickering via Flickr