By Aysha Bagchi
The DREAM Act (Senate Bill 729 and House Bill 1751) could come up for a vote as early as Thursday. If passed, the act would allow undocumented college students and young people serving in the military who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 to apply for temporary legal status with the potential for U.S. citizenship.
The bill was first introduced by Democratic and Republican Senators Richard Durban of Illinois and Orrin Hatch of Utah in 2001, yet nine years later, undocumented youth are still waiting for a chance to come out of the shadows. House Democrats have the votes to push the bill through before a Republican Congress takes over in January, and if the House passes it, moderate Republicans in the Senate will feel political — and, dare I hope, moral — pressure not to block the DREAM. This week is a genuine chance.
The DREAM Act is a single issue that almost inevitably gets caught up in a wider debate. The act would affect only 800,000 undocumented students in the U.S. (out of 11 million undocumented people), but critics who are skeptical of wider immigration reform correctly perceive the difficult reality: students are not islands. They were brought to the U.S. by family members, often parents who work hard to give their children the best lives they can. Legal residency for the children of undocumented people in the U.S. would make yet another powerful argument for comprehensive immigration reform.
Yet opposition to broader reform is anything but a legitimate moral stance against the DREAM Act, and anything but American. The United States is predicated on some simple, cherished ideals. Most centrally, it has built its political identity on a value for the individual. The U.S. has traditionally stood for the idea that honest, industrious individuals will have protection whenever others would do them harm and will have tangible opportunities to reach for their dreams. That individualistic spirit is at the heart of the U.S.’s ability — a truly remarkable one — to adamantly be arguing about a Guantanamo inmate’s right to a trial or the unacceptability of the death penalty if even one innocent person is wrongly convicted. The United States stands for proudly safeguarding the individual.
And yet the United States has proven willing, at least for these past nine years, to allow individuals to be trapped in a desperate no man’s land by failing to pass the DREAM Act. To prevent high school valedictorians who were brought to the U.S. as children and know no one in their country of birth (and there are so many who meet that description) from reaching for their dreams is both bad economic policy and a shameful departure from our ideals.
I was in Arizona with some other students last March talking about immigration reform with the deputy who works for Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He began by saying he was against reform, but then he kept on talking about immigration policy — with no interruption or prompting from his listeners — by the end, he had talked himself into the opposite position: some sort of pathway to legal status for the 11 million here was the only real answer, but it would have to come with solutions about future immigration and acknowledgment of those who have waited in line. If comprehensive immigration reform is an obvious one, the DREAM Act is crystal clear. If we reflect for two moments on the status of undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children, there is little beyond decriminalization that can appeal to Sarah Palin’s most cherished value for “American common sense.”
I have seen President Hennessy speak on a handful of topics at a few events over my Stanford career. The most encouraging, and most human, moment I ever saw from him came the only time I have talked with him personally, which was in a meeting two years ago about the DREAM Act. To our group of five students (including two Stanford DREAMers, both of whom will be graduating in this year’s senior class but see a very different “real world” ahead), he expressed his deep personal support for the act and disappointment that it had not yet been passed. After some emotional stories (and maybe a little prompting from some passionate students!), he agreed to publicly endorse the act.
As Stanford’s president perceived, the DREAM Act is a Stanford issue and a human one. It is not the type of thing for which we should stand idly by. And this week, we have a real chance. So call your representative, call the representatives who are on the fence and tell your peers to do the same. Let everyone know that you support the DREAM, and that we have a special chance these next few days to make it a reality.