DREAM Act Vote Anticipated in Congress’s Lame Duck Session

DREAM Act supporters outside of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office - Photo: Catalina Jaramillo

DREAM Act supporters outside of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office. (Photo: Catalina Jaramillo)

Various media outlets are reporting that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will push for a vote on the DREAM Act in Congress’s lame duck session, possibly as early as this week. The DREAM Act would pave a path to legalization for undocumented immigrant youth who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, if they enter the armed forces or attend college for two years, and have clean records.

The DREAM Act has been floating around Congress for over a decade, but experienced a rush of attention this fall, as advocates switched their strategy from emphasizing the benefits of hundreds of thousands of college educated, hard working, bilingual and assimilated young people entering the workforce, to a way to save the U.S. military, which is suffering from low recruitment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also stated he will try to bring a vote on the DREAM Act before the end of the year. Earlier this fall, Reid tried to tack it on to a defense bill, but Republicans in the Senate filibustered before it could even come to a vote. Advocates are pressuring Reid to raise the issue again, saying that Reid’s narrow victory in Nevada was due to the support of Latino voters, and they are counting on him to make progress on immigration reform.

It also might be the last time in a few years there’s even a slim chance of passing the DREAM Act—considering Republican gains in Congress, and the resistance of many to anything they perceive of looking the slightest bit like “amnesty.”

Advocates are on tenterhooks, and with good reason.  The next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which drafts immigration bills, will be Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, and it’s looking like Rep. Steve King of Iowa, is likely to run the immigration subcommittee. Both Smith and King favor enforcement-only measures, Arizona’s SB 1070, E-Verify, and altering the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S  to undocumented immigrants parents.

Smith was the author of 1996 immigration legislation that increased deportations and made it more difficult for immigrants to access the justice system—leaving some immigrants without a right to plead their case in front of a judge. King appeared in Congress with a mock-up of a border fence and questioned why the border barrier isn’t electrified. “We do this with livestock all the time,” he said.

Smith and King have also written Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, saying they were dissatisfied with Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s plan to focus on deporting the most serious criminals, and asked why the agency couldn’t deport every single undocumented immigrant. (It would cost about a hundred billion dollars).

So with about six weeks left in the legislative session, there’s legitimate urgency for DREAM Act supporters. We’ll see what the Lame Duck has in store.

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