Heffner: DREAM Act Is Just the Beginning

Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:08pm

Congress must pass the DREAM Act. But that must only be the end of the beginning — not the beginning of the end — when it comes to immigration reform.

The DREAM legislation isn’t a marathon-caliber measure by any means, but it is a start.

According to The Economist, the immigration problem has four parts: 1.) increasing border security; 2.) increasing the amount of skilled foreign labor; 3.) stabilizing unskilled foreign labor; and 4.) finding a solution that works for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.

The DREAM Act finds solutions for the second and fourth problems better than anything we’ve seen so far. Combined with ongoing efforts to secure the border, it provides a solid foundation for further reform by incentivizing motivated illegal youths to contribute to America’s future.

By encouraging undocumented students to become ingrained in American life — be it in institutions of higher learning or in the armed services — we are exhibiting what America has to offer: hope, opportunity and an open mind.

But what about after the DREAM Act — and its passage or demise in Congress?

President Barack Obama’s prolonged postponement of immigration reform shouldn’t cheer anyone. Since assuming office, the president hasn’t adequately told the American people that such overhaul is central to continuing to fix health care or education. Immigration is not some remote issue we can afford to confront any later than today.

Rounding up undocumented immigrants and sending them to their home nations is easy, in theory. But this makes little sense when you consider many have been in the U.S. for decades or are children who had no choice — and that furthermore, many are performing functions essential to our economy. Many illegal immigrants are invested in homes that may otherwise be foreclosed upon, cleaning houses for those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and cooking the dinner you eat in nearly any restaurant.

Comprehensive immigration reform may be impossible because of its scope, but D.C.’s Instant Gratification Machine won’t allow anything less, so instead nothing has been done. The politics of immigration is nothing short of an unworkable legislative circus. The issue is red meat for partisans out to appease their bases with fiery rhetoric, which leads everyone back to exactly where they started.

And then there is the great American paradox: We fear immigrants, and yet we are a nation of assorted settlers and refugees. Immigrants of all stripes have been — and are today — the lifeblood of the American economy, with communities across every state sharing basic services such as medical care and public education.

We demonize the latest immigrant populations and stigmatize the concept of earned citizenship, and yet realize that immigrants, documented or not, are the country’s political backbone. In fact, Lady Liberty remains the most multiethnic, thriving melting pot across the globe. And we’re not asking for your tired, your poor, your huddled masses; we’re allowing the most talented to shine.

Anyone who is vital to the future of America should be able to stay. It’s the perfect combination of the left’s sympathy for illegal immigrants who are too young to remember their “home” (or politicians’ rendering of it) and the quick-and-dirty “What are they doing for us?” approach from the right.

The DREAM Act and like-minded measures will be far more effective in improving the quality of life for legal and nonlegal inhabitants than Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” could ever hope to be. Immigration, as Arizona proved once again, is a boiling, hot-button rallying call for the far right.

President George W. Bush understood the political firestorm he’d create within his base for championing comprehensive reform, but he also sympathetically recalled the hard-working undocumented population he saw as governor of Texas. And, to his credit, he tried boldly to articulate this to his Republican colleagues and to the American people.

Most Americans realize this approach is the only pragmatic and equitable one, despite Glenn Beck’s dreams of “Birth of A Nation” marathons and mass deportations.

Alexander Heffner, an undergraduate at Harvard, is director of the education and journalism initiative ScoopSeminar.org.