Most parents will do anything for their children. And when mom and dad are in the United States illegally, this includes volunteering to spend the rest of your lives in the shadows if it means your kid can step into the light.
On a recent trip to Phoenix, I sat down for dinner with a pair of illegal immigrants — a married couple who overstayed their visas about 15 years ago and have been trying, with the help of an attorney, to get right with the law ever since. They're not the only ones who lack legal status; they have a child, born in Mexico, who is now a teenager with an uncertain future. Mom and dad agree that they'd be willing to forgo their chance at legal status if, at least, something could be done for their child.
That something is the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. The bill is aimed at young people in the country illegally, offering them "conditional permanent residency" if they came before they were 16 and if they attend college or serve in the military. Once they graduate or complete their enlistment, they would get permanent legal residency with a chance to apply for U.S. citizenship. Anyone who didn't enroll or enlist would be subject to deportation.
As far as my dinner companions are concerned, the legislation is a gift from above.
"We'd be willing to wait 100 years for the chance to stay here legally," the father said, "if our child could have that opportunity right now through the DREAM Act."
This bill is a fantastic idea. It identifies young people who want to make a contribution and separates them from those who don't. And it allows the United States to keep precisely the kind of individuals that other countries would love to have. The legislation represents good policy and good sense. So, naturally, it's having trouble making it through Congress.
Immigration-reform liberals are split. In one camp are those who think Congress should pass the DREAM Act to solve a small part of the immigration problem. In the other are those who want to stay focused on the larger and more elusive cause of comprehensive reform.
Part of it has to do with the numbers. It is estimated that the DREAM Act could impact as many as 700,000 people; those who are pushing for comprehensive reform have their eye on changing the status of more than 10 million.
Some say its time to settle for the DREAM Act as a "down payment" on immigration reform.
Adding to all this, there's also drama on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a tough battle for re-election.
Should he lose, it would set off a gladiator match to succeed him between the second-ranking Democrat (Durbin, who is sponsoring the DREAM Act) and the third-ranking Democrat (Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who is supposedly going to propose — one of these days — a comprehensive bill).
The Hill newspaper reported a few months ago that Durbin is "soft-pedaling" the DREAM Act so as not to undercut Schumer's reform effort. He's doing this even though his supporters think it's every senator for himself now and that No. 2 shouldn't be doing anything to help No. 3 — especially since, many immigration advocates acknowledge, it's Durbin's bill that stands the better chance of passing.
Political junkies love this stuff, but most people couldn't care less about the politics holding back the DREAM Act.
They include those parents in Phoenix who just want a safe haven for their child and thought they had seen the last of this kind of political dysfunction when they left Mexico.
They also include the several hundred undocumented high school and college students who recently marched on Washington to rally support for the bill.
Some of them occupied senators' offices and got arrested, risking deportation. By their actions, they showed more courage and character than our lawmakers have shown.
And there's the best argument for passing the DREAM Act — so that deserving young people get the chance to realize their full potential.
With so much of politics driven by the self-interest of politicians, we're fresh out of leaders in this country. So we had better start growing a new crop.
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