Summary: The “Dream Act” seemed to come and go so quickly in the news cycle. Legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” plus the hoped-for treaty with the Soviets pushed the failed bill off the media’s radar screen.
I wrote this post Saturday, but then didn’t put it up on Health Beat because I felt I wasn’t adding anything new to the debate. (Ask long-time Health Beat readers “What do you think Maggie thinks about the Dream Act”? and many could probably write the post themselves.) But as I thought about it, it seems to me that I do have something to say.
We should stop to grieve for these students. And we should put the Dream Act at the top of a liberal agenda next year. I realize that as the Tea Party joins Congress, it will be harder to welcome new immigrants to this country. But the Latino vote will be extraordinarily important in 2012. If only for political reasons, liberals should show their support for this legislation—and force conservatives to try to justify cutting off opportunities for 17-year-olds who live in this country.
One of my son’s friends from college teaches at a high school in Los Angeles. Most of her students are poor, and some of them are illegal. Typically they were born in another country, and their parents brought them here when they were very young.
When she visited us a few years ago, she talked about how heart-breaking it is to see some of these kids working so hard in high school—especially their senior year—knowing that they probably will never go to college. In order to apply for college loans and grants, you need a Social Security number. Because they’re illegal, they can’t get one. This makes senior year of high school their last shot at an education.
But the Senate decided to dash their hopes once again by voting against legislation that would have let them become citizens if they:
- came to this country when they were under 15 (and had little choice but to follow their parents)
- have lived here for at least five years
- have graduated from high school
- attend college for two years or serve two years in the U.S. military
Even though they cannot become citizens, most of these teen-agers will probably stay here for the rest of their lives. For the majority, the U.S. is the only home that they have ever known. For many, English is their first language.
But they won’t get the education they want and need. Some will wind up unemployed. If they don’t have health insurance, they will remain among the uninsured even after health care reform is implemented. When they become sick, or wind up in an accident, we all will pay somewhat higher insurance premiums so that hospitals can absorb the cost of caring for them.
Their ability to contribute to the economy will be stunted. The likelihood that they will be able to provide a good education for their own children will be undercut. If this country is going to be able to compete globally in the years to come, we will need more educated workers.
The Senate bill, which failed on a 55-41 vote, split along partisan lines. It would have required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, had passed the Dream Act with a 216-198 vote on Dec. 8.
I cannot imagine how any lawmaker voted against “The Dream Act” exactly one week before Christmas—and two weeks before the dawn of a new year.
The New York Times reports that dozens of students who would have been eligible for legalization under the bill gathered in the Senate gallery to watch the vote. “They squeezed one another’s hands when the final result was read out, and many cried.” Are we trying to punish these students for a decision their parents made?
Maybe some Senators were concerned that if these kids are added to the pool of applicants, fewer loans and scholarships would be available for American citizens.
If so, they should vote to increase the amount of aid that the federal government offers to college students. After all, conservatives seem to have decided that it’s okay to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit in order to help multi-millionaires. Why not help hard-working kids who want to better themselves—either by joining the U.S. military or by going to college? If we want the economy to recover, we should be investing in human capital.