Senate majority leader Harry Reid is a desperate man. Locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Sharron Angle, he wants to boost his support among Hispanic voters. So yesterday he tried to sneak the DREAM Act into the defense-authorization bill as an amendment. The maneuver didn’t work, mostly because of overreach: Other add-ons to the bill included repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and lifting the abortion ban currently in place for military hospitals. Together, the controversial trio proved enough to make the bill vulnerable to the filibuster that stopped it.
But expect the DREAM — that’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors — Act to live on. In some version or another, it’s been a fixture on the legislative landscape since it was first introduced in 2001. Through the years, the bill, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who came as children if they agreed to then spend two years in either college or the military, has often relied on the same arguments: It’s unfair to punish children for the sins of their parents and it’s cruel to expect children raised in America to be forced back into a country they may not even remember.
These are sympathy-inducing arguments — although they don’t necessarily jibe with the actual provisions of the DREAM Act. First, it’s not just those young adults who came over here as infants and toddlers who are eligible; it’s also those who came as teenagers, as long as they were under 16. And those eligible for residency include not only the teens and early-20s crowd, but anyone younger than 35 — adults who clearly knew they were here illegally and chose to play the odds and stay.
Nor is this an insubstantial amnesty: The generous eligibility provisions will ensure a large wave of applicants. The pro-amnesty Migration Policy Institute estimates that up to 2.1 million people will be eligible, although they anticipate that only about 40 percent will take advantage of the amnesty.
Even that only accounts for those who receive amnesty directly. The act could easily double as a backdoor amnesty for many illegal immigrants. There’s nothing to stop these children, if they eventually become citizens, from sponsoring relatives — including the parents who brought them here. It could be the disastrous 1986 amnesty all over again: a one-time deal that arbitrarily rewards millions of illegal immigrants for breaking the law before a certain date.
Anything that rewards illegal immigrants, of course, encourages more to come here. There’s nothing in the act to help further secure our borders. Nor is there any measure that would make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to find work in this country, not even a simple step such as as requiring all companies to use E-verify.
In short, the DREAM Act is partial amnesty with no strings attached. Voters who believe we should enforce our immigration laws rather than reward those who have defied them have only one recourse: defeat Harry Reid and as many of his Democratic colleagues as possible.