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Immigration reform dreams deferred

Pat Quinn

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the “DREAM Act” into law Monday, legislation that will create privately-funded scholarships for documented and undocumented immigrants to attend public and private colleges in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune’s Monique Garcia reports that Illinois DREAM Act supporters “will continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington, noting the new state law is a small but important step forward.” But Washington can’t deal with the federal version of the DREAM Act, much less comprehensive immigration reform.

The Illinois law goes against the national trend of states (like Arizona) passing laws that are meant to crack down on illegal immigrants. DREAM Act foes say the law will encourage illegal immigrants to enter the state.

Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem if the federal DREAM Act finally passed the U.S. Congress after four years of near misses. Written by Illinois Democratic representatives Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, the DREAM Act would provide temporary residency to the children of illegal immigrants, i.e. people who did not make the choice to illegally immigrate, who attend college or the military for two years.

The bill got 55 votes in the U.S. Senate in 2010, just failing to get the sixty votes to break a filibuster. So a day after Barack Obama gave a speech this May on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, it made perfect sense that Senate Majority Harry Reid would re-introduce the DREAM Act — a small step toward comprehensive immigration reform.

But John McCain and Lindsey Graham, previous Republican supporters of the DREAM Act, said they now opposed the bill because it wasn’t coupled with tougher enforcement measures. What McCain and Graham overlooked is that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has ramped up enforcement programs like Secure Communities and E-verify during the Obama administration. Republican Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana gave a clearer reason for his sudden opposition: He didn’t want to do anything that might help Obama politically.

So right now it looks hopeless for Washington to get anything constructive done toward rational immigration policies. The changes in policy then will more likely evolve based on actors like ICE, anti-immigrant statehouses like Arizona, and more pro-immigrant statehouses like Illinois.


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