In 2001, two U.S. senators introduced the DREAM Act, to let immigrants brought here without authorization as children remain in the country. Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah didn’t know how fitting the name would be. Today, the idea of granting legal status to these innocents is just that — a dream.
This is legislation that both parties should be able to agree on — and, to some extent, have. It would be an act of compassion for people who have grown up to be Americans, despite the accident of their foreign birth, and become productive members of our society. It would also be a service to everyone else, by ensuring the continuation of their valuable contributions — as doctors, nurses, teachers, construction workers and more — while opening up wider opportunities for them to contribute.
The usual complaints about immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, don’t apply to the people who would benefit, known as "Dreamers." They didn’t choose to violate our immigration laws. The vast majority has grown up speaking English and integrating into society. The legalization would include only those who earned a high school diploma or General Education Degree, haven’t committed crimes and exhibit "good moral character." MS-13 need not apply.
This change has found its way into one major immigration bill after another, including a 2006 package that had the support of President George W. Bush as well as such Republican senators as Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Sam Brownback. That year, 23 GOP senators voted for it as part of an immigration overhaul. But it has never managed to become law.
It has been in abeyance for so long that some of the children who stood to gain back in 2001 have become parents. At this point, deporting the "Dreamers" would do grave harm not only to them but to their American-born children. But the measure has stayed on the shelf, in a triumph of indifference, inertia, cruelty and political dysfunction.
In 2012, confronted with this maddening failure, Barack Obama issued an executive order shielding these immigrants from expulsion. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granted temporary protection to some 700,000 people. Republicans denounced it as a shocking overreach by a would-be king — back before they learned to love untrammeled presidential power. They forgot Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had taken similar action to block the removal of large numbers of undocumented immigrants.
When the virulently anti-immigration Donald Trump became president, he ordered an end to DACA. But federal courts ruled against him; the program remained in effect; and this year, the Supreme Court saved it, finding that the administration failed to follow federal law in rescinding it.
For the "Dreamers," the decision was a reprieve. The next administration would like to make it permanent. Joe Biden’s campaign website said: "Dreamers and their parents should have a roadmap to citizenship through legislative immigration reform. But in the meantime, Biden will remove the uncertainty for Dreamers by reinstating the DACA program, and he will explore all legal options to protect their families from inhumane separation."
DACA’s opponents, however, have not given up their merciless crusade to punish the blameless. In July, acting secretary Chad Wolf ordered DHS to reject all new applications — only to be overruled by a federal court, which ordered the department to resume taking them.
On Tuesday, Texas and eight other Republican-controlled states asked a federal court in Houston to strip the "Dreamers" of their protection. That would allow their deportation to countries that, for many, are no more familiar than Antarctica.
The states supporting DACA argued that the court should bide its time until the new administration arrives and decides what to do. If the court should strike it down, Biden could unilaterally fashion a new program, which might or might not survive judicial review.
All this would have been avoided had Congress mustered the humanity to pass legislation protecting them. Trump professed "love" for the "Dreamers" and vowed to help them. But over the past four years, neither he nor his allies in Congress could bring themselves to do the right thing.
In the closing weeks of his presidency, Trump has granted clemency to all sorts of vile people who committed serious crimes. The "Dreamers," who did nothing wrong, are still waiting for their absolution.