Thousands of U.S. students have a dream.
It’s a dream they thought might move closer to reality this year through legislation giving them a path out of legal limbo.
But the U.S. Senate this week used a procedural vote to stomp on that dream, with lots of huffing and finger pointing about "playing politics" weeks before Election Day.
A bill called the Dream Act has been bouncing around Congress for a decade, bouncing like a foster child who gets platitudes but not the warm embrace of a permanent home.
The legislation would enable young people who were children when their parents brought them to the U.S. illegally to legalize their status by graduating from high school, avoiding any criminal record and attending college or serving in the military.
Estimates of potential Dream Act beneficiaries range from 700,000 to 2 million. They are students and young adults with great potential who’ve lived in this country at least five years — some many years longer than that — and consider it their home, their only home.
The bill has enjoyed bipartisan backing. Even Republicans who were unwilling to let it be debated this week claim to support a mechanism for this group of illegal immigrants to secure documentation.
But when it came down to a vote, Republicans blocked consideration.
Because it’s election season, of course.
Republicans accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of using the Dream Act to generate Hispanic votes in Nevada, where he’s in a tough re-election campaign, and other locales where Democrats might be foundering.
What a shock. A piece of legislation is conveniently timed. That ploy’s never been used before.
Democrats countered that Republican opposition has nothing to do with merits and everything to do with obstructionism.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn said it disrespected U.S. troops to try to attach the Dream Act as an amendment to a $725 billion defense spending bill.
But the proposal is germane to the defense budget — it would provide a new pool of potential recruits — and has been supported by military leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, since the George W. Bush administration.
What is disrespectful is that members of Congress are too immersed in political gamesmanship to accomplish serious business.
The Dream Act deserves meaningful debate.
Instead, it gets ruses and even hysteria.
Rep. Brian Bilbray, D-Calif., who heads the House Immigration Reform Caucus, wrote Monday on thehill.com’s Congress blog that "some people in Congress and in the business community share the responsibility" for drug cartels murdering 72 migrant workers in northern Mexico.
"When they support amnesty, introduce bills that provide a pathway to citizenship and, in the most irresponsible of cases, use amnesty to motivate voters, they tell people: ‘Work with the cartels and come across our border illegally, for we will eventually give you amnesty and citizenship.’"
It’s fallacy to call the Dream Act amnesty that would cause chain migration and lure more illegal immigrants.
Only those who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and had been living here for five consecutive years when it took effect would qualify.
Those who obtain legal status would have to wait six years to petition for their parents’ legal status and couldn’t sponsor extended family.
Some Republicans insist that the measure should be part of comprehensive immigration reform, but it isn’t necessary to wait that long to resolve this conundrum in the system.
An honest and open debate, instead of just procedural maneuvering, would be a terrific first step.