Advocates on both sides of the US immigration debate have been pretty busy the past few weeks as, not one but, two separate pushes for immigration reform have been made in Congress.

The cynical among us will point out that although neither measure had a snowball’s chance of passing in the current economic and political climate, they were introduced anyway in advance of November’s election in order to give the perception that Democrats are at least trying to keep their promise about immigration reform.

Harry Reid, facing surprising opposition to his re-election bid in Nevada, attached the DREAM act to a defense spending measure that contained amendments for federal funding for military abortions and elimination of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT).  Not surprisingly, this bill went down in flames and didn’t even make it to the debate stage. The other bill introduced this week was, by far, the more controversial of the two and calls for broad comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).


Of the two bills, the Development, Relief and Eduction of Alien Minors Act (DREAM) is the one more likely to get passed. The purpose is to provide people who were brought here before the age of 15 the ability to legalize. There are two main justifications for the DREAM Act so if one doesn’t appeal to you, the other may. The first justification is that it is the moral thing to do. Babies and young children didn’t decide for themselves to come to the US (either legally or illegally) and then refuse to go home. An adult did that for them. Therefore, it would be unconscionable to send these people back to a place that they don’t know and into a culture that they are not familiar with. So, if we’re not comfortable sending innocents home, we may as well give them a green card. The second justification is more practical. The US has already spent valuable resources educating and training these young people and, given the declining state of our work force, we can’t afford to be turning away workers who can contribute to society (and pay taxes, especially social security taxes).

In order to qualify for a temporary green card under the DREAM Act, the individual must have arrived in the US before the age of 15, have been here for at least 5 years before the bill is passed, and have graduated from high school or have gotten a GED. Only those who are between the ages of 12 and 35 can apply and they must have good moral character (i.e. no criminal issues). Once granted the temporary green card, he or she must then enroll in and complete two years of either college or military service in order to be considered for a permanent green card and, later, citizenship.

For the most part, I like the theories behind this bill. I get calls regularly from young people who are in a situation where they were brought here as babies, raised in the American way, and now are stuck in undocumented limbo. Some weren’t even made aware of their unlawful status until it was time to enroll in college or get a real job.


The newest Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill was introduced in the Senate  just before the election recess. The “comprehensiveness” of the bill can be seen in the fact that it calls for increased border enforcement, interior enforcement, worksite enforcement and legalization or amnesty.

The amnesty portion of the bill would allow individuals to become “lawful prospective immigrants” (LPI) with the ability to work and travel, if they were lucky enough to be here on the day identified in the bill (right now, it’s 9/30/10 but that could change). To qualify for LPI status, applicants undergo a background check and pay a fine. LPI status applies to those flying under the radar, those in deportation proceedings, and those with outstanding deportation orders. Once a person has been in LPI status for at least six years, he or she can apply for a green card if one is available (i.e. they must go to the “back of the line”) and they have paid their taxes and a $1000 fine. They also must take an English and civics test.

Given that this bill would have the effect of producing, overnight, millions of new “legal” workers, I can’t see how it can be passed in the current economic environment. Unfortunately, I think comprehensive immigration reform will remain nothing more than a political talking point for years to come.