The one we didn’t win: DREAM Act’s failure dooms immigration reform

Disappointed students watch the DREAM Act fail in the Senate. (Photo from the Los Angeles Times.)

With liberals hailing the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that kept gays from serving openly in the military, and the START treaty set for a vote in the Senate on Sunday, one group of mostly Democrats was left with nothing to cheer for this weekend: activists who hoped to secure passage of the DREAM Act, which would have offered a path to citizenship for young people who came to the country illegally, but not of their own volition.

The idea behind the DREAM Act — officially the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has a Republican and a Democratic co-sponsor (Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin) — seems inarguable. It would allow young people who are in the country illegally, but who are willing to serve this country in the military, or pursue a college education, to be given conditional residency, as they get on a path to U.S. citizenship. These are the kind of young people we want in the country: kids who want to be doctors, researchers and engineers, and who if sent back to their places of birth, would be strangers in those countries, but who if they made the best of it and pursued their futures with equal vigor there, would benefit Honduras or Colombia or Mexico or India or some other country, rather than the country that educated them and gave them their fundamental values: the United States. Why we would want to export that intellectual capital, and deprive our military of bright young minds, just to satiate xenophobic tea party geezers who can’t abide the notion of so many brown people filling up the country, is beyond me.

These kids did nothing wrong. Yet, many on the right, and the Republicans who they now own, lock, stock and barrel, want to punish these kids, rather than develop them into the model American citizens they already are becoming. It’s astounding. And yet, with Republicans backing off making the START treaty the sacrifice for Senate leader Harry Reid’s daring to bring the DADT repeal to the floor, perhaps realizing that with substantial parts of their own base refusing to take up the cudgel on the culture wars given Republican gains with gay voters in the last election cycle, the DREAM Act became the whipping boy.

So while three Republicans crossed the aisle to support cloture on Saturday, 36 Republicans voted “no,” and they were joined by five Democrats, who by deserting their leadership, effectively killed the bill for the lame duck, and probably for good.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The bill, known as the Dream Act, had passed the House, and its advocates and Democratic sponsors hoped that they could muster enough Republican votes to bring the legislation to the floor. Instead, it fell victim to a GOP filibuster, one in which a handful of Democrats also blocked the bill. The final tally was 55 to 41.

Dozens of young activists crowded the galleries above the Senate floor in support of the bill, many wearing college graduation mortarboards. Some held hands as senators cast their votes.

In a statement after the vote, President Obama called the result “incredibly disappointing.”

The act would have allowed those brought to this country before age 16 to attain legal residency and perhaps eventually citizenship if they lived here more than five years and attended college or served in the military. Opponents derided it as a form of amnesty. Experts estimated that about 1.2 million immigrants would have taken advantage of the legislation.

Some form of the legislation, known formally as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, has existed on Capitol Hill for a decade, but Democratic leaders viewed this vote as a last, best attempt to pass it before Republicans take control of the House next month and gain additional seats in the Senate.

The vote brought the curtain down on a two-year drama in which the Obama administration and Senate Democrats assured activists that immigration reform was a top priority, only to see it never find any real legislative momentum. For proponents, the road will only grow harder, as public sentiment against illegal immigration has hardened and fewer Republicans have shown interest in a comprehensive policy overhaul.

But Democrats couldn’t even hold their own caucus together. Five joined Republicans in the filibuster, including Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Had all five voted the other way, the bill would have reached the Senate floor and could have passed by a simple majority vote.

After the vote, Democrats were, at turns, rueful and defiant. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Latino voters would seek retribution at the ballot box, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would push to have the measure included in some attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in the next Congress.

Schumer, too, warned that the GOP would pay a political price for opposing the act. “I don’t think any political party can succeed writing off such a large percentage of America,” he said.

Republicans also took a beating over the vote on the Sunday shows:

NBC’s ANDREA MITCHELL: The dumbest thing that the Republicans did was the DREAM Act. … that is going to turn out to be a real setback for Republicans because these are people who wanted to serve in the military and get educated and contribute to the society.

NEWARK, NJ MAYOR CORY BOOKER: To tell people who’ve been through high school, high school presidents going on to college some of the best brains who have no relation to their home country. This is crazy. It’s hurting America.

GOP STRATEGIST MARK MCKINNON: The Republican Party has got to recognize Hispanics are the huge growing demographic in this country. … We gotta send the right signal to Hispanics in this country in addition to the fact that it’s the right policy.

FOX NEWS’ JUAN WILLIAMS: The one thing that I regret…is the defeat of the DREAM Act for the immigrants and the immigrant kids. I just think, again,Republicans play politics with real lives, real people, real aspirations and they leave the immigration issue on the table when that’s the real business of the American people.

And pro-immigration reform groups are already taking names, and cautioning that Latino voters will remember how their Senators and members of Congress voted on the bill. And here’s what they’ll need to remember:

Three Republicans — Robert Bennett of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Richard Lugar of Indiana — joined 50 Democrats and the Senate’s two independents in voting for the bill.

Five Democrats — Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — joined 36 Republicans in blocking it. Not voting were Republican Sens. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Of the three Republicans who supported DREAM, only Lugar — long a lonely voice of bipartisanship in the Republican caucus — is up for re-election in 2012. Murkowski — who is proving to be the real Alaska maverick in the country, having also voted in favor of DADT repeal — is newly elected, and Bennett is retiring from Congress, having been defeated by a tea party candidate in a Utah primary.

Of the five Democrats who defected to the GOP side on the bill, Manchin, Tester and Nelson are up for re-election in 2012. Manchin, the former governor of West Virginia, won a special election to fill the Senate seat held by the late Robert Byrd. Hagan, who defeated former NC Senator Elizabeth Dole, is up in 2014, as is Baucus. Both hail from conservative states where their DREAM Act votes probably won’t do much damage.

But for Republicans, the damage could be substantial. Western states will be crucial in 2012 — including Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Even in Florida, where the Hispanic electorate is split between conservative Cuban-Americans and Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans, Colombians and other Latino groups, the DREAM Act is popular with that large and growing part of the voting population.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a backlash, or whether the tea party pressure that’s creating momentum for Arizona-style anti-immigration laws across the U.S., including in Florida, will prove to be a more potent motivator to the GOP.

Or to sum up, perhaps Republicans should take a second look at this December 9 press release from the GOP group Somos Republicans:

Obama Extended Bush Tax Cuts; Now GOP Must “Move Forward” for DREAM Act

For Immediate Release
December 9, 2010

Phoenix, AZ – Hispanic Republicans would like to thank President Obama for supporting the Bush Tax cuts, however, we believe President Obama should have negotiated DREAM Act support along with the those cuts.  We were also glad to see strong Republican support for the cuts when they told Democrats “they would not go forward with any legislative item until Obama supported the tax cuts…”   Now that Obama has stated his support, we would like to see the GOP Senate leaders move forward in support of the DREAM Act.

Of great importance, we witnessed every single Congressional Cuban Republican vote in support of the DREAM Act; in fact, they all spoke in favor of it on the floor.   We are deeply indebted to them, and the Hispanic community will forever remember their actions.  Not long ago, the entire Hispanic community was with the Cuban community in spirit when the battle of Elian Gonzalez drove Cuban Americans back to the Republican Party in Florida.  Within one decade we have watched some in the GOP transform on the issue of children, families, immigration and deportation.   In 1996, Bill Clinton and Al Gore won Florida, however, during the 2000 Presidential Election, the Cuban American National Foundation said they would actively work against Gore because of his badly chosen handling of Elian’s deportation that eventually cost him the elections.

Thanks to the Cuban Republicans who showed strong support of the DREAM Act, there is hope in Florida.  Unfortunately, we fear a political shifting and repositioning of the entire Southwest and some Midwestern states if GOP Senators will not take heed to issues that are very important to Hispanics. We know that Senators LeMieux, Hutchison, Kyl, Ensign and Hatch are all up for 2012 elections.

It is now up to the GOP Senators to save the Southwest and prevent it from further political shifting.  As one of the most prominent and largest Hispanic Republican organizations in the nation, we are left with no choice but to answer to our base by keeping track of every single political vote that is viewed as friendly or un-friendly to Hispanics – especially with regard to our related youth who should not be punished for the sins of their mother or father.  Like the Cubans during 2000, our Political Action Committee will actively work against 2012 political candidates who are un-friendly to our community.

Remember the Elian Gonzalez incident of 2000!

Remember the deported Hispanic child that cost Mr. Gore the Presidential elections!

They can’t say they weren’t warned. And Democrats can’t say the strategy for responding to Saturday’s blockage of the bill hasn’t been laid out on a silver platter. Do they have the political chops to respond?


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2 Responses to The one we didn’t win: DREAM Act’s failure dooms immigration reform

  1. Shelly Weiss says:

    The funniest part of this piece is “These are the kind of young people we want in the country: kids who want to be doctors, researchers and engineers”

    Uhhhh, these are not Caltech or MIT honors students… this would have been any kid who gets a GED degree and does 2 years of online community college. That’s about the typical credential of an entry level employee at In-n-Out Burger these days! Sure there would have been a few doctors, researchers, and engineers, but precious few.

    But that’s just one of the many tricks that the DREAM bill–may it rest in peace–contained.

    Anyway, you will see new moves for immigration reform coming from congress now–they just won’t be immigration AMNESTY type reform–they will be “let’s get control of our borders” amnesty.

    By the way, have you noticed that the old “jobs americans won’t do” crap has been refuted by the facts on the ground?

  2. Marty says:

    The new DREAM Act will consist of mandatory E-verify and a militarized border.

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