The DREAM Act Deferred

Note: If you thought of a catchier title for this entry, the Liberal Ironist would like to counter that (1) is has already been done–a lot, even by The National Review, and (2) he finds that movie monotonous-enough without a repetitive play on words referring to it.

Saturday was a strangely-mixed day for the cause of civil rights; while the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” sailed triumphantly through the Senate by a vote of 65-31, the DREAM Act failed in the Senate 55-41.  As I said in the previous posed, the DREAM Act would have granted legal status and a path to citizenship, but not amnesty, to young undocumented immigrants enrolled for 2 years in a 4-year liberal arts college or who had completed 2 years of military service.  Like President George W. Bush‘s broader immigration reform proposal targeting millions of undocumented immigrants who could prove employment, it made economic sense, was fair to immigrants who had entered the country legally and already waited (unnecessarily long) to gain citizenship, would make law enforcement’s job easier in several ways and bring our immigration laws in to conformity with the reality that millions of people are living and working and even starting families in this country who just want to assimilate–but are invisible in our laws.  In short, I’m surprised that Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV, who is immortal) even bothered to put the DREAM Act on the agenda, because a minority of Senators representing a fraction of Americans was sure to block its passage.

David Broder wrote a good, angry column last spring on our needless expiation of the social and political consequences of failure to enact immigration reform.  I’m inclined to think it’s ultimately simpler than the “debated to death” perspective Broder seems to take; many Conservatives vaguely invoke the fact that undocumented immigrants have broken the law, as though that fact was somehow self-evidently more-important than the consequences of the law itself, or the law couldn’t be otherwise.  Conservatives whom are otherwise almost mute about the facts in point or the issues at stake with immigration generally will invoke a sudden, Platonic respect for the self-sufficient justification and immutability of the law when it comes to the approximately 10 million immigrants in the United States illegally, most of whom must be working to get by.

Before the failed vote for cloture, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), said “I want to make it clear to my colleagues, you won’t get many chances in the United States Senate, in the course of your career, to face clear votes on the issue of justice.”   He was right; but as Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) cynical invocation of the centrality of the law demonstrates, that cuts both ways.  The New York Times article on the filibuster of the DREAM Act shows Jeff Sessions doing his thing, invoking abstract principles no one believes in to fight legislation that is almost unassailable:

 

“’As part of this legislative session there has been no serious movement to do anything that would improve the grievous situation of illegality at our border,’ said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who led the opposition to the bill as the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.  ‘Leaders in Washington have not only tolerated lawlessness but, in fact, our policies have encouraged it.’

“Mr. Sessions added, ‘This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.’”

 

That’s the irony about being in a legislature; there is something weirdly-unprincipled about a lawmaker invoking the letter of existing law as the sole basis of his vote.   Perhaps the very-recent need for all Senate legislation to get 60 votes and all the surprise procedural objections have made the Liberal Ironist cynical.

Or maybe Senator Sessions and the other empty legalists blocking a path to citizenship for “illegals” are just race-baiting at the expense of millions of hard-working immigrants who desperately want to become Americans.  I wouldn’t rule that hypothesis out.

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