Congress returns on September 13 for one last round of legislating before the November elections. It is a short work period (four weeks) and the prospects for getting things done are, particularly in this gridlocked Congress, not great. Congress watchers predict that the emphasis will be on jobs and the economy, which is not surprising given that this is what’s on voters’ minds. But where does immigration fit into this framework?
Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos, reported via Twitter yesterday that Senator Reid intends to move the DREAM Act before November. The most likely scenario would be to offer the DREAM Act as an amendment to some must-pass piece of legislation, but whether or not this happens will likely turn on whether Senators can start acting like leaders. In other words, putting their political futures on hold long enough to do something that benefits their constituents, even at the risk of angering a few outliers who view any positive vote on immigration as tantamount to destroying the country.
And honestly, those folks are the outliers. Polls show that support is high both for comprehensive immigration reform and subsets of it, like the DREAM Act. In the absence of the time and careful negotiation needed to put together a major comprehensive immigration reform bill, the DREAM Act becomes an important mechanism for signaling change and movement on immigration reform. It is important in its own right—as a vehicle for giving legal status to young people who are in this country illegally through no fault of their own—and as a harbinger of something more to come. If and when Congress passes the DREAM Act, and the sky doesn’t fall, the country may grow tired of anti-immigration antics—including passing state and local laws that attempt to regulate immigration.
The winds may already be shifting in that regard. Yesterday’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision finding the Hazelton anti-immigrant ordinances unconstitutional is a wake up call to those who think that immigration reform can be defeated at the local level. Notably, Kris Kobach, one of the architects of SB 1070 and an attorney for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (a subgroup of FAIR), argued the case for Hazelton and went down in flames. While the opinion is a crash course in Civil Procedure II and as such will make some readers crazy, it is worth slogging through the opinion for statements like this:
Stitched into the fabric of Hazelton’s housing provisions, then, is either a lack of understanding or a refusal to recognize the complexities of federal immigration law. . . in every single instance in which Hazelton would deny residence to an alien based on immigration status rather than a federal order of removal, Hazelton would act directly in opposition to federal law.
In fact, it would make a lot of sense for Members of Congress to sit down and read this opinion before they take a vote on an immigration matter, as it very clearly makes the point that Congress isn’t doing its job.
Hazelton offers yet another reason for making immigration a priority, even amidst stimulating jobs and economic growth. In a time of fiscal distress, where states and localities are scrambling for every penny, Congress can keep them from wasting money on laws and ordinances that are both mean-spirited and constitutionally infirm. It’s time to start that ball rolling and signal that Congress understands it needs to act. And the DREAM Act is a good place to start, precisely because it gives a group of people with enormous talents and energy a chance to use their skills and contribute to the economy, rather than letting them waste away.