Over the last decade, policy makers in the United States continually pledged to make reformations to the policies surrounding immigration. This period of time has shown quite clearly that comprehensive reform is almost politically impossible. While the push for full-scale improvements has continued, there has also been an attempt to approach the problem pragmatically. By making legislative strides to solve a smaller facet of the problem, congress can work its way toward solving the overarching problem. Enter the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act. While a small change in a specific policy, the DREAM Act has potential to have a positive effect on the American society and economy as a whole. Enactment of this law could potentially turn congress to reviewing the whole process of entrance into the country.
The act’s main goal is to allow the children of illegal immigrants an independent way to receive citizen status within the United States. Children who come into the country as immigrants receive citizenship through their parents. This means that when a child’s parent is either undocumented or in the process of becoming a citizen, the child remains undocumented. Many of the children brought into the United States must return to their country of origin in order to gain a visa, which itself is often a difficult task that can take about 3-10 years. Current United States law punishes these children for actions they had no control over, thus vilifying them for the sins of their fathers.
T he bill was first introduced in 2001 by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch along with a bipartisan coalition of cosponsors including Republicans like Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Indiana’s Richard Lugar, and Democrats like Massachusetts’ Ted Kennedy and Nevada’s Harry Reid.[i] In 2007, a version introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Lugar (R-IN) came within eight votes of gaining cloture in the senate. In the 2007 vote, there was some bipartisan support for the measure, as twelve Republicans sided with 38 Democrats.[ii] Most recently, in December 2010 during the lame duck session, the bill fell within five votes of gaining cloture. This attempt was marred by a heavy partisan atmosphere which prevented more Republicans from joining with the 52 members of the Democratic Caucus, as only three, Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Richard Lugar (R-IN), voted in favor. Current chair of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-Tx) stated, “The DREAM Act hurts millions of Americans who have lost their jobs, are underemployed or are threatened with layoffs. It puts the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of those of law-abiding Americans.”[iii]
Though it is a vehicle for a comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act is a beneficial change in and of itself. The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank based in Washington, estimates that about 755,000 people would currently be eligible for conditional nonimmigrant status, with another 934,000 that would be when they turned 18 and finished high school or attained a GED.[iv] The National Immigration Law Center estimates that each year 65,000 potential DREAM Act recipients graduate from high school. Passing this plan or a plan similar to it would have a strong positive impact for these members of society, allowing them to gain further education and eventually legal citizenship as a resident in the United States. However, the potential benefits do not simply lie in aiding those who are in these difficult predicaments.
By these immigrants to attaining lawful residency status within the United States, they are entering the world of legal employment. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that adding all of these individuals to the legal work pool would generate about $2.3 billion dollars in new revenue over the first ten-year period.[v] Adding these immigrants to the legal work force could also provide social security with $407 billion over the next fifty years, according to the National Foundation for American Policy.[vi] The North American Integration and Development Center, which estimates that all of the beneficiaries of the DREAM Act would make a combined $1.38 trillion in income over a forty year work career.[vii] That aspect could take some pressure off of welfare programs by allowing those individuals whom would otherwise need to utilize such programs to provide for their families. These types of positive economic effects are what make this policy valuable to the United States as a whole and allow its effects to be felt by everyone within the country instead of just the minority it would directly aid.
While the situations that the DREAM Act deals with are only a small piece of the immigration problem, they also symbolize one of the most egregious flaws within the system. That is what gives this such potential to create impetus for new policy to fix the American immigration system. With a policy like DREAM, the potential favorable effects on the whole of society would make it an extremely necessary case for whole-scale immigration reform. DREAM’s likely success as a policy could be used by political figures in the debate to highlight just how important changing the immigration system really is, and how beneficial the change could be to all Americans. As people become aware of the changes under these new practices, immigration organizations will be able to push for a full review of the immigration process. By highlighting the potential economic benefits, immigration lobbying groups will be able to gain traction among American voters who still consider the economy as a top priority. This is why DREAM’s positive effect could seriously give new hope to those looking for a change.
In Washington, there is a desire to make comprehensive changes to the immigration process yet there has been no spark nor have there been any successful policies that could force politicians to look at the whole system. Could it be that all they really need to spark a discussion and a new policy, is a DREAM?
[iii] Wong, Scott. “House Sends Dream Act To Senate.” 12/8/2010. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1210/46175.html (accessed 2/9/2011)
[iv] Migration Policy Institute (MPI). December, 14 2010. MPI Updates National and State-Level Estimates of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries. Washington, D.C. P.1-2
[v]Congressional Budget Office. .Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2010: Congressional Budget Office, 2010
[vi] National Immigration Law Center March 2009. Why Enactment of the DREAM Act Would Aid the Ailing Economy and Generate Tax Revenues. Washington, D.C.
[vii] North American Integration and Development Center. No DREAMers left Behind: The Economic Potential of DREAM Act Beneficiaries. Los Angeles, California