Twelve years ago, in 2010, in another final session of an outgoing Congress, and with another Democratic President, Barack Obama, who lost the House to Republicans, there was an attempt to approve the Dream Act. The effort cleared the House of Representatives, but could not collect the sixty votes necessary in the Senate. At that time, 36 Republican Senators and five Democrats killed the initiative.
It seemed like the right moment to not only do the right thing, but something good for both parties and the nation in general. But adhering to the anti-immigrant ideology and, especially, the attitude on the part of conservatives to reject the “other,” gained ground and, to this day, remains the albatross that especially affects immigrants such as the Dreamers.
It’s impossible to not look for parallels to today, although the deeds are occurring in different political and historical contexts. Obama, in the first mid-term election of his first term, suffered a major defeat, which he called a shellacking. His Democratic Party lost 63 seats in the House and, therefore, its control; it also let go six seats in the Senate. At least now Biden kept control of the Senate, and although Republicans will control the House from January on, their wins were minimal.
However, the only constant in this picture is that things continue without obtaining security for millions of undocumented immigrants in this country, not even the so-called Dreamers who have so much support among the U.S. population. That is an irrefutable fact in a society, which only finds obstacles at the political level when it’s about voting for such a winning issue that benefits the most powerful economy on the planet.
There are many calls for this Congress, still in Democratic hands, to approve the Dream Act before the Republicans assume control of the House on January 3, 2023. But Republicans have asserted that measures that supposedly benefit immigrants will not see the light of day. That is not difficult to imagine, since the person emerging as the next Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, is among those who are most loyal to Donald Trump to this day. In fact, McCarthy has already threatened to initiate an impeachment against the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Cuban-American Alejandro Mayorkas.
Essentially, it’s to be anticipated that in what remains of this session, the Democrats will probably try to advance what they didn’t in the last two years; and it’s certain that the Republicans will block their attempts. What would be novel is that they surprise us and do the right thing and at least advance legalization of Dreamers as a down payment on the elusive immigration reform. But even then, we see once again that the Democrats always leave everything to the last minute, when there remains almost nothing other than hope to achieve something positive on the immigration issue, while Republicans adopt an attitude of having won everything, not for the common good, but exclusively for their political enclave, without realizing that, in a democracy, governing for some is governing for no one.
We have already recited, to exhaustion, the benefits of legalization for this country. Research on the issue tells us that the Dreamers add more than $40 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yearly, which translates to almost six times more than the $7 billion that DACA costs the United States. Dreamers are present in every facet of our economy: they are consumers, investors, have opened businesses and are workers. And with their academic preparation, they have fortified the international competitiveness of the United States.
What other proof of personal, social, cultural, or economic commitment does the anti-immigrant part of the United States need in order to humanize not only the Dreamers in their mind, but also to humanize themselves to face such a definitively humanitarian issue? The United States already rejected a white nationalist vision a long time ago, but this segment of society has not accepted this reality—so much so that it wallows in its own hatred and foolishness, rather than acknowledge this new country’s existence.
The worst part is that the deferred action program (DACA) which, since 2012 has protected Dreamers from deportation and granted them work permits, continues to run the risk of being eliminated in the courts. There are 600,000 people who benefit from DACA and it’s calculated that another 400,000 are eligible, but cannot benefit because a judicial order doesn’t permit new applications.
These lame duck sessions of Congress are not characterized by grand achievements, since the party that won control but will not assume it until January, in this case the Republicans, have neither the appetite nor the goodwill to support the measures of those who lost control of the chamber. But bad faith and politicking are not good advisors. And in the case of the Republicans, despite the fact that their extremism failed at the polls, they don’t seem to be in a hurry, at the moment, to abandon their political strategy. It’s not to be expected, also, that their hearts and feelings would soften to those who need it. And in that we are referring not only to the Dreamers in this case, but to U.S. society as a whole.
At any rate, the still-Democratic majority must try to close out the electoral year that wasn’t as bad as anticipated by advancing legalization of Dreamers, to at least begin to make their unfulfilled promises a reality.