With the United States Senate’s December vote against the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, many say there is still much to come in the country’s immigration debate.
The 55-41 vote, which was five votes too few to pass, is seen by immigration reform advocates as a step backward for many immigrants, including undocumented students and military service members, who would become legal citizens with the DREAM Act. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in early December, but immigration experts say passing the bill in the near future is unlikely with more Republican seats now in Congress.
John Garcia, director of the Resource Center for Minority Data and the community outreach director for the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, said the DREAM Act is one part of immigration reform that would allow people to see the issue as having a larger scope than border security and law enforcement.
The bill would permit illegal immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools to stay in the country if they complete two years of military service or two years at a higher education institution. In order for the DREAM Act to apply, they would have had to enter the U.S. before the age of 16 and reside here for five years.
Garcia said in late December that he believes the DREAM Act will now be difficult to pass since Republicans take the House this month and there were few conservative representatives who voted for the bill on Dec. 8. Eight Republicans voted in support of the bill when it went for a vote in the House on that date, and 20 chose not to vote, according to a Dec. 9 Michigan Daily article.
Garcia said in an interview in late November that the DREAM Act should be passed because it would produce a new generation of workers and highly-educated citizens to fill vacant jobs as the current workforce moves toward retirement.
Citing America’s history as a nation comprised of immigrants, Garcia said the nation relies on immigrant workers in service jobs like agriculture as well as in the high-tech worlds of science and engineering.
Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel and a University Law School alum, echoed Garcia’s sentiments. She said the future workforce needs access to all the talent available, which may come from people who were born outside the U.S.
According to Shotwell, more than 50 percent of graduates at the masters and doctoral levels are from foreign nations. However, because green cards are limited, she said it is vital to promise green cards to people who are graduating in order to guarantee a solid workforce.
If changes aren’t put into place, Shotwell said America will be forced to further outsource domestic work.
“If the United States doesn’t adapt to immigration polices that facilitate international business that allow global companies to move people around the world expeditiously, then companies are going to be forced to find other ways to get that business done — whether that means opening facilities abroad or moving workers abroad,” Shotwell said.
Silvia Pedraza, a University professor of sociology and American culture, said the DREAM Act would reduce the need for people to come to America illegally, which is vital for progress on immigration reform.
Immigration allows the U.S. to “benefit from the talent that comes from the rest of the world,” Pedraza said.
But LSA sophomore Brian Koziara, vice chair of external relations for the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said the DREAM Act provides an incentive for illegal immigration by promising citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants if they fit the criteria.
“The purpose and intent of the act is good … (but) the way (the DREAM Act) goes about it is fundamentally flawed,” Koziara said.
Koziara added that he’s glad the legislation didn’t pass in its current state, as he said he thinks the federal government needs to enforce and strengthen the nation’s current immigration laws before implementing the DREAM Act.
Sherrie Kossoudji, an associate professor in the University’s School of Social Work, said the DREAM Act does have its benefits, but also said the country’s immigration policy should be changed generally because people who live their whole lives in the country can still be deported.
“Someone can grow up in the United States, go all the way through college in the United States, only know the United States as home, and be deported because they were brought here without papers as a baby,” Kossoudji said.
Garcia said he believes opponents of immigration reform often have hostile arguments because the issue is often tied to domestic concerns like competition for American jobs and terrorism.
“When we think about terrorism, we think about people who may be immigrants who are coming from other parts of the world, so immigration and terrorism gets intertwined,” he said.
Garcia said he would like to see the U.S. reform its immigration policy by allowing people from other countries to fill the allocation of nations that don’t have as many people applying to live in America. For example, countries like Switzerland have fewer immigrants to the U.S. than the reserved capacity allowed — leaving unused spots that could be given to other immigrants.
Garcia acknowledged that immigration reform is a tough issue for politicians like President Barack Obama, but criticized the president for putting more emphasis on enforcement, security and workplace raids rather than worker programs and other similar initiatives.
“He’s getting hit on both sides,” Garcia said. “It’s a no-win situation.”
Immigrants applying to become legal U.S. citizens may wait 10 to 12 years after they file their initial petition. Given this wait time, Garcia said he would like to see the U.S. implement a naturalization policy for people who have become established in America and are paying taxes and supporting their communities.
Garcia continued by saying that this would be a more rational approach to the matter because even if illegal immigrants are caught, the deportation process isn’t solving all the current issues. In 2008, only 390,000 immigrants were deported out of the 10 to 12 million who lived in America, he said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.