The House of Representatives will hold a hearing tomorrow on the issue of granting legal status to around 2.8 million illegal immigrants within the U.S. who were brought here as children.
The hearing, “Addressing the Immigration Status of Illegal Immigrants Brought to the United States as Children,” will take place at 2 p.m. before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
In June of last year, the Obama Administration announced that it would defer the removal of certain illegal immigrants for a period of two years. In doing so, President Obama essentially went around Congress to implement major elements of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act by executive action alone.
More recently, the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in the Senate contains a version of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to those illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were under the age of 16. More inclusive than similar legislation seen in the past, the bill set no upper age limit for DREAM Act recipients.
As debate now moves to the House tomorrow, here are five key questions members should be asking:
- Would this endanger the lives of children by encouraging greater trafficking across the border? Over the past 10 years, crossing the U.S.–Mexico border illegally has become increasingly dangerous for would-be immigrants. Illegal immigrants face kidnapping, murder, and rape at the hands of violent drug cartels and ever more ruthless human smugglers. Crossing treacherous desert areas, illegal border crossers also face the risk of dehydration and heat stroke. Ultimately, hundreds of people die each year trying to cross the border. Any sort of DREAM Act–style legislation would likely put children at risk by encouraging parents to attempt the dangerous crossing in the hope that their children would qualify for legal status under the law.
- Is this fair to the millions who are still waiting to come to the U.S. legally? Approximately 4.4 million people are today waiting in line to come to the United States, some for upwards of 24 years. Any version of the DREAM Act would likely result in millions being allowed to jump the line in front of these law-abiding immigrants simply because they are already here illegally. Even where requirements to clear the legal backlog of legal immigrants might exist, such requirements would be unrealistic. Without real reform to the already struggling U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, arbitrary mandates to clear the backlog are likely to overwhelm the system and make matters worse.
- Would this promote greater family chain migration? Past versions of the DREAM Act have often been painted as a compassionate and targeted fix to a specific immigration problem. The reality is, however, that a DREAM-like bill would be far from narrow. Indeed, depending on the version and age requirements, as many as 3 million illegal immigrants—some now as old as 35—would be made eligible for legal status. And because aliens granted citizenship under the DREAM Act could then sponsor their spouses, children, siblings, and parents, chain migration could result in double or triple that number of illegal aliens ultimately receiving amnesty and becoming citizens.
- What is to prevent DREAM Act legislation from becoming a vehicle for an amnesty like the Senate bill? The House should be applauded for thus far taking a step-by-step approach to immigration reform. However, as the House proceeds, Representatives should remain cautious that House legislation not become a vehicle for passing the Senate amnesty bill. If the Senate bill is conferenced with any House-passed measure, it could be used as a vehicle toward backdoor dealings among conferees, almost ensuring the implementation of undesirable measures laid out in the Senate bill.
- What would make this different from the past proposals that have been repeatedly rejected by Congress? Since 2001, Congress has considered various versions of the DREAM Act more than 30 times. Time and time again, this legislation has been rejected by both Democratic- and Republican-controlled Congresses. Any DREAM Act legislation put on the table this time around is not likely to be different from these very proposals that Congress has tried and rejected in the past.