by Ricardo Sánchez
Following massive demonstrations across the country in 2006 for comprehensive immigration reform, the most visible result has been militarization of the border, Congressional approval of a 700-mile fence between the United States and Mexico, and a more tentative, nervous U.S. Congress.
Opponents of the reform fear a blanket amnesty for people they consider to be “lawbreakers.” This sole point of contention is likely to cause Congress to do nothing on immigration reform again this year, no matter how loud or large the demonstrations.
Unfortunately, the lives and futures of innocent children and young adults are lost in the debate. Should the immigration stalemate continue, what I dread most is looking into the eyes of educated and talented young people whose only “crime” was obeying their parents when they crossed the border. Many came as infants.
There is, however, a solution with strong bipartisan support pending in Congress in the form of the American DREAM Act (HR 1275). A similar measure in the Senate has drawn wide support ranging from Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah) to Democrat Ted Kennedy (Mass.).
If approved, the American DREAM Act would grant temporary legal status to college-bound undocumented students who have lived in the United States for at least five years. Upon completing at least two years of college or military service, the students would be eligible to apply for permanent legal status.
While more and more such students are graduating from our high schools — some with honors, others as senior-class valedictorians they’re conflicted. Even if they graduate from college, they won’t be allowed to work. One student with a 3.7 high school grade-point average wrote to me recently of being “without hope of a future.”
Despite the obstacles, some go on to earn degrees, are prepared to teach in our schools or to become lawyers, engineers and doctors. But unless immigration policies change, they need not apply to work, at least not as professionals.
Most of us are unaware of the permissive and manipulative immigration practices that have made it relatively easy for agriculture and other low-wage industries, spanning decades, to employ a steady stream of undocumented workers.
For example, when INS agents conducted raids in Georgia’s internationally acclaimed onion fields in June 1998, the Washington Post Weekly (July 13, 1998) reported that “a couple of growers at one farm stood their ground, telling the federal agents to get off their land.
“The well-publicized confrontation and calls for help from onion farmers sent two Republican lawmakers from Georgia … hurrying home from Washington to rein in the Immigration and Naturalization Service …Within days, the INS agreed not to interfere with this year’s harvest,” the Post reported.
When similar raids were conducted during the cherry harvest in Washington State, The Tacoma News Tribune (June 8, 1997) reported that three members of its congressional delegation joined farmers in complaining about “overzealous tactics” and “too much INS activity.”
This is how the nation’s “top lawmakers” intervene to protect industries that rely on a steady stream of cheap labor. And we, as consumers, have all benefited by paying the lowest prices for our agricultural products of any other industrialized nation in the world.
Approval by Congress of the American DREAM Act would be an important first step toward rectifying a broken, easily manipulated immigration system. The vast majority of U.S. citizens would applaud the Congress for demonstrating that it has the wisdom, courage and compassion to do what is right for thousands of young scholars who did not willfully break our laws.
By approving the DREAM Act, the Congress could prove to itself that progress is possible on the seemingly intractable immigration issue. It could provide the needed momentum to set aside the partisan maneuvering that threatens to deny progress on comprehensive immigration reform.
To move the Congress to this level, demonstrations in the streets won’t make the difference. But a call or an e-mail message to Capitol Hill from individuals who comprehend the marrow of the matter just might.
To everyone’s benefit, no young scholar educated in the United States should be left “without hope of a future.” Hispanic Link.
(Ricardo Sánchez is chairman of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, a statewide organization based in the Seattle area. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org) .© 2007