The Undebated Debatables: What Was Missing from the Presidential Debate

The DREAM Act, which stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, would grant a conditional permanent residency status to immigrant children who came to this country as minors, graduated from high school, have good moral character, and lived in the U.S. continuously for five years prior to enactment. Serving in the military and completing some college can also result in conditional permanent residency. With that status, they can apply for permanent residency after fulfilling certain other requirements. 

Child-Dream1It was originally introduced in 2001 by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D) and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R). But, by the time Senator Hatch faced a feisty Tea Party challenger for the Republican nomination, the Senator backed away from his early support. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the bill was reintroduced in various forms, collectively making the permanent residency goal a little harder to achieve: no in-state tuition discounts, no health care, lower age cap, longer delays, no sponsorship, and requires, among other things, back-tax payments.

In 2011, several Republicans who had supported the DREAM Act ten years earlier withheld their support unless the bill included increased border security and enforcement. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) expressed willingness to compromise, but, as has become their custom, Republicans said no.

Earlier this year, the President announced that he was not going to let Republican nativism stand in the way of reform by ordering his Administration to stop deporting those who met most of the DREAM Act requirements. That policy would be reversed if Governor Romney wins in October.

The DREAM Act is supported on the left because it can help raise innocent young persons out of poverty, give them access to education, and bring many more immigrants away from the fringes of official society. The business community supports it because it offers access to millions of new, legal workers. Immigrant communities support it because it would rescue their populations from a kind of legal limbo where they are constantly looking over their shoulders. The only people who do not support it are law-and-order type Republicans (and pretty much 80 percent of the Republican caucus in the House and Senate) who feel that it rewards illegal immigrants. 

Republican opposition to the DREAM Act willfully ignores the positive economic and social benefits of integration of fringe populations and denies the fact that DREAM Act targets — young persons — never made the decision to come to this country on their own. They are here because their parents came here, seeking nothing more than a better life and opportunity for the next generation. They are, therefore, no different from young American citizens whose parents would do just about anything to ensure their success.

Therefore, we should ask ourselves the following questions: Why would we want an immigration system that deports children trying to get an education and contribute to American society? Why would we want to punish innocent young people who came here at the whims of their parents? Why, when the business, military, education, and health care communities favor reform would we deny their bipartisan voices in favor of nativism and xenophobia?

The answer, of course, is Republican politics. More immigrants on a path to citizenship means more Democratic voters and a shrinking white majority. They think it means dilution of "American culture" and a hodge podge of languages on official government forms. They think the DREAM Act, like the freedom to marry, brings the end of days.

Mitt_romneyGovernor Romney, the "severe" conservative from the Republican primary and the man who said immigrants do not "deserve" the American dream, likes to smile and say he likes immigration. But, not only did he never have "binders full of women" at Bain, he never had binders full of minorities anywhere. His team at Bain almost exclusively consisted of white men; his Massachusetts cabinet included one racial minority until the Democratic legislature pilloried him for it. But all of that is for show; anyone can puff up their moderate credentials by appointing a token [insert excluded group here] to [position he doesn't really care about].

Mitt Romney is strikingly unqualified to be president because of his ignorance. He never knew gay persons wanted to have families before he summarily and rudely dismissed a lesbian couple from his Boston office. He had no idea women receive less pay for the same work until he became a governor. He has no idea the kind of life he is forcing on immigrant children, remarking once that the farms migrant labor work on are "beautiful." He cannot conceive of the horrors of discrimination because he has no idea it actually happens. And, as such, he will never be willing or able to represent any minority.


Ari Ezra Waldman teaches at Brooklyn Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. His research focuses on technology, privacy, speech, and gay rights. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues. 

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.