Bernard Pastor of Ohio, brought to this country at age 3, is fighting an order of deportation to Guatemala. Hector Lopez of Oregon is in detention after being deported to Mexico and trying to return to his family in the United States, his home since the age of 6 weeks. What Pastor and Lopez have in common is that they grew up pledging allegiance to the United States, have never lived anywhere else and for all intents and purposes are American. They and thousands like them would have been assisted by the DREAM Act, which offered a conditional pathway to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military. Unfortunately — worse than that, immorally and cruelly — the Senate failed to pass the bill.
Although polls showed that the public supported it, and the Congressional Budget Office calculated that its passage would add $2 billion in new tax revenue annually, and a majority of senators were ready to vote “aye,” as had their colleagues in the House, a Republican minority and a handful of Democrats blocked the bill from coming to a vote.
This is a sad moment for young people like Pastor and Lopez, who were hoping for a reprieve. To secure a future in the United States, undocumented students outed themselves online, in news stories, on their college campuses. University graduates told of working as waitresses and dishwashers even though they hold advanced degrees. They demonstrated at senators’ offices and fasted in the tradition of Cesar Chavez. Saturday morning, they cried in the corridors of Congress.
Immigration policy is complicated. We believe enforcement is an important part of a sensible strategy — unrestricted immigration is unsustainable — and that the government has a right to deport those who are here illegally. But the practical reality is that millions of law-abiding families have deep economic, social and cultural roots in the United States. That’s why we also believe the Obama administration has correctly focused on deporting criminals while the country continues to debate the merits of reforms that would address employment and security but also include a path to citizenship for those already here.
That said, one small part of the problem would have been easy to solve: the fate of children. Unfortunately, the Senate missed the opportunity. So, for now, young people will continue to be punished for decisions made by their parents. Immigration leaders vow they will not forget those who sided against the DREAM Act, and we hope they don’t. On Saturday, millions of Latino voters watched the process, as both major Spanish-language networks interrupted regular programming to carry the long-awaited “DREAM vote” live. They heard the vitriol; they saw the shattered students. With those images in mind, they should renew their commitment to the cause. This is a disappointment, but it’s not a defeat.