DREAM Act and DREAMers shaping 2012 and beyond
During the Democratic National Convention, Benita Veliz made history during her prime time appearance by being the first undocumented immigrant, or DREAMer, to speak before a national party convention. Her speech was short but graceful: an American story illustrating perseverance and well-deserved academic accomplishments. She praised President Obama’s executive action to lift the shadow of deportation from young undocumented immigrants. The atmosphere of inclusion in Charlotte contrasted sharply with the rhetoric in Tampa at the Republican National Convention. Whether that translates into a substantial bump with the Latino electorate, the polls will soon tell. What is clear, however, is that the DREAM Act and Dreamers, like Benita, are heavily influencing policy positions and party platforms.
With Benita’s appearance, both parties must confront the issue of what each would do to modernize the nation’s broken immigration system. This includes a look more narrowly at what each would do with undocumented youth who will benefit from President Obama’s executive DREAM Act. Listening to the speeches of President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and Texas Mayor Julian Castro indicates that an Obama victory in November ensures the continuity of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, at least until congressional action is finally taken. Conversely, Mitt Romney has refused to say whether he will continue the program, with hints from top advisors indicating Obama’s deportation directive would “be subject to review and repeal” if Romney won the White House.
Uneasiness and controversy has been the hallmark of Republicans on the issue of immigration. Republicans like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has compared immigrant to dogs, have been the most vocal voices for the party on immigration. This is not to say that the Republican party is the problem; rather, it is the current and extreme right elements controlling the party that is the problem. Indeed, DREAMers supported and campaigned for Republicans including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in primary races against Tea Party candidates. Recognizing their weakness, Republicans in Tampa deliberately ignored the issue of immigration and advisors to Mitt Romney have urged the candidate to avoid it on the campaign trail.
While the economy is of primary concern to Latinos, immigration is an issue of personal attention, specially to Latinos of mixed status families. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has endorsed SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, to become a model for the nation, put forth a “self-deportation” policy, and promised to veto the DREAM Act. As a party, Republicans have adopted an inflexible enforcement-only approach to immigration, including a national E-verify and “encouraging” SB 1070 copy cat laws. Republicans have lionized anti-immigrant hawks like Sheriff Arpaio, who has been taken to court by the Department of Justice for discriminating Latinos. And it doesn’t stop on immigration policy. Republicans across the country have been persistent in suppressing Latino, Black, and youth voter turnout by passing voter ID laws and early voting restrictions laws. These laws have been struck down by federal courts in Texas, Ohio, and Florida as denying access to the franchise. These were the reasons undocumented youth in Florida organized and marched against the GOP in Tampa.