This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
It would be a shame if partisan politics kept Congress from passing at least some version of the DREAM Act, which offers a path to citizenship for young illegal aliens who serve in the military or make significant progress in college.
But that seems to be happening as the legislation becomes a chip in a high-stakes game of brinksmanship over the immigration issue, with both parties using it to score points with their constituencies.
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of young people who want to contribute to their country through the military or higher education are left in limbo.
That’s unfair to them – many of whom came to this country as young children – and to the nation; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the DREAM Act passed, government revenues would increase by $2.3 billion by 2020 through the higher level of productivity of the young people who qualified under it for legal residency or citizenship.
The DREAM Act has had support from some Republicans over the years, most notably Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who has been a co-sponsor when the legislation was introduced in the past. But he declined to co-sponsor the bill when it was re-introduced Wednesday.
A spokesman for Lugar said that it was because Democrats – and President Barack Obama in particular – have made immigration a divisive election issue, using the DREAM Act as a wedge to win Hispanic votes. With the growing clout of Hispanics in many red state races, Democrats are pointing to GOP opposition to the DREAM Act as reason not to vote for Republicans.
DREAM Act supporters say Luger’s real reason for backing down is that he’s facing tough primary challenge from the tea party, which has made him a prime target for defeat in 2012. Teaming with Democrats on any part of immigration reform – especially legislation that looks something like amnesty – doesn’t play well with the more conservative wing of his party.
The DREAM Act could be made more palatable to moderate Republicans. For instance, the bill now applies to anyone brought to this country before age 16. That age could be lowered a few years. And illegal immigrants qualify under the bill even with two misdemeanors; tighten that up, and more Republicans might come on board.
Ideally, the DREAM Act would be part of more comprehensive immigration reform. But neither side seems particularly interested in the down-and-dirty work involved with that in the run-up to the 2012 elections.
The question is: Will they ever find the political courage?