By Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
The Arizona law recently signed by Gov. Jan Brewer would require police to check the immigration status of an individual if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is an undocumented immigrant. Like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, I have serious concerns about the fairness and constitutionality of the Arizona law.
There is no doubt Arizona faces serious law enforcement challenges as a result of illegal immigration. But the reality is the situation in Arizona is a symptom of a broader problem: Our broken immigration system. And putting the police in a position of enforcing this law is unfair in light of our own failure to act in Washington. That’s why the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has strongly urged the U.S. Congress to “immediately initiate the necessary steps to begin the process of comprehensively addressing the immigration issue to provide solutions that are fair, logical, and equitable.”
I couldn’t agree more. We need a comprehensive approach to secure our borders, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and require those who came here illegally to register with the government, learn English, and pay back taxes and other fines before they can go to the back of the line to work towards becoming taxpaying American citizens.
And immigration reform legislation must address the plight of immigrant children who grew up in this country but are prevented from pursuing their dreams by current immigration law. They are honor-roll students, valedictorians, community leaders and aspiring teachers and doctors.
They came here with their parents at an age when they were too young to understand the consequences of their actions. And we do not have a tradition that punishes children for the choices of their parents.
These young people are the reason I introduced the DREAM Act nine years ago. Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is the DREAM Act’s lead co-sponsor. Our bill would give immigrant students the chance to become legal residents if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years.
The DREAM Act would allow a generation of immigrant students with great potential and ambitions to contribute more fully to our society. Our country would also benefit from thousands of highly qualified, well-educated young people who are eager to serve in the Armed Forces during a time of war.
Recently, I met with four young people who would qualify for the DREAM Act. They walked all the way from Miami, Fla., to Washington, D.C., – 1,500 miles – in order to bring attention to the situation of undocumented immigrant students and the DREAM Act. They are not asking for anything different than generations of young people before them – a chance to succeed in a country where hard work and talent determine success rather than color, creed or background. And they believe the DREAM Act is the key to their aspirations.
We’ve come close to making the DREAM Act law before. Last Congress, our bill received 52 votes in the Senate, a majority vote – including 11 Republicans – but we needed 60 under Senate rules. Since then, support for the DREAM Act has grown and the bill now has 38 cosponsors. If Democrats and Republicans come together, we can pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, including the DREAM Act, in 2010.
Failure to take up immigration reform will mean our broken system and ineffective laws will continue to weaken our national security, hurt our workers, and fall short of the most basic standard of justice.
In the mean time, Senator Lugar and I have urged the Obama Administration and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to immediately halt deportations for those students who would otherwise be able to earn legal status under the DREAM Act. Secretary Napolitano has said “smart immigration policy balances strong enforcement practices with common-sense, practical solutions to complicated issues.” The situation of DREAM Act students is just such a complicated issue and requires the common sense, practical solution of deferred deportations.
I understand some would rather avoid this issue in an election year because it is politically sensitive. But Congress has an obligation to do what is best for our country and fix our broken immigration system.
Durbin is the Assistant Majority Leader in the Senate