By Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – The US Senate made an immigration clean sweep when they voted against advancing a bill that would have provided children of illegal immigrants a chance to gain legal status last October 24.
The Senate voted 52-44, well short of the 60 required to advance the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). The bill would have granted children of illegal immigrants living in the US conditional status if they graduated from high school, have no criminal record, planned to attend college or join the military. After five years, they could apply for their citizenship papers.
Last June, the Senate also did not advance the broader comprehensive immigration reform bill, a larger bill where the DREAM Act was part of. That bill would have legalized more than 12 million undocumented immigrants and increased border security.
According to the US Bureau of Census in year 2000, there were about 2.5 million undocumented youth under age 18 who were living in the US. A Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at USC reported that each year, over 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools nationwide.
Senate Immigration supporters were hoping that the smaller DREAM Act bill would pass.
“Children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to the Associated Press.
“What crime did these children commit?” added Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.) “They committed the crime of obeying their parents and following their parents to this country. Do you think there was a vote in the household about their future? I don’t think so.”
Republican leaders saw the bill as a first step to amnesty.
“I do not believe we should reward illegal behavior,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
“This would be the wrong direction,” added Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala). “This would be signal that once again we’re focused on rewarding illegality rather than taking the steps necessary to create a lawful system.”
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said he saw grave reservations about seeing a part of comprehensive immigration reform going forward, “because it weakens our position to get a comprehensive bill.”
After the bill did not advance in the Senate, the White House issued a statement.
“We continue to believe that the best way to address this issue is through a comprehensive bill, one that would put border security and interior security first, and that creates a temporary worker program and helps immigrants assimilate into our society,” said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.
“You may recall in the immigration debate [that] we supported an alternative to the DREAM Act, in the context of overall comprehensive immigration reform. That’s obviously what is not being considered now, and we will review it. But I would note that the President has not supported it as a standalone measure in the past,” Perino added.
In Los Angeles, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) expressed its extreme disappointment in the failure of the Senate to pass the DREAM Act.
APALC had been at the forefront of seeing the bill pass into law.
For the past two weeks, APALC had been urging Asian American community members to voice their support for the DREAM Act and on behalf of Tam Tran. The 24-year-old undocumented Vietnamese activist’s entire family was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last week, three days after she spoke in favor of the DREAM Act in USA Today.
“Tam Tran’s voice was compromised,” said Daniel Huang, APALC policy advocate. “The Asian American community did not want her voice to be silenced.”
“The DREAM Act would benefit thousands of innocent students, including many Asian Americans,” added Karin Wang, APALC Vice President of Programs.
“We thank Senators Feinstein and Boxer for their support of the DREAM Act, but we need Asian Americans in other states to raise their voices for this bill to pass,” she added.