by Haley Robinson
Each February, Americans celebrate Black History Month, given that the theme of having a dream for greater civil rights is hardly unfamiliar. But the actuality of having a DREAM never was realized for many American residents. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act haunted the dreams of legislators for more than a decade. Meanwhile, California was dreaming it’s own DREAM.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, in 2010 there were an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants residing in California. Trailing California is the Lone Star State – Texas – with 1.7 million out of the nation’s projected total of nearly 11 million illegal immigrants.
California is the most undeniably affected state by immigration policy, which is why one might expect the fact that California legislators approved the DREAM Act in 2011.
Federally, however, attempts to pass almost exactly the same bill came to a standstill and failed after multiple revisions and trials. This legislation allowed illegal immigrants to receive financial aid benefits if they arrived in the US before the age of 16 and had good standing. The difference with the federal act is that the California DREAM Act does not grant legal status to these students.
The federal DREAM Act was first proposed in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and reintroduced by multiple other Republicans later in time. In fact, President Bush vocalized a want for increased border security, temporary guest-worker program, and requirements for businesses to e-verify their employees which sounds very similar to the plan President Obama is backing currently.
Additionally, Obama has an extremely strict record on immigration enforcement, deporting more immigrants than any other administration in United States history. Seeing that the bipartisan effort taking place now is precedented, perhaps immigration goes past a partisan issue, and racial acceptance is the main factor at work.
Like the plight of pre-civil rights movement African Americans, the Latino population in America has been dehumanized with draconian measures, such as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, the controversial Arizona law that requires immigrants to carry specific immigration documents, which police could request upon reasonable suspicion a person was an illegal immigrant. Often reasonable suspicion means having brown skin.
This proposal of racially-profiled immigration enforcement is the result of a long accretion of failing immigration reform laws, which were either ineffectual or excessively disputed between parties. Along with the aforementioned failure of the national Dream Act, the 2005 Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act failed, which incorporated legalization, guest worker programs, and border enforcement components, along with the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005 and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which both had similar aims.
When a blatantly racist bill is enacted in Arizona and bills to aid with guest worker programs cannot even be passed federally, the issue of immigration takes on a whole new color. And that is the color of brown skin.
Returning to California’s weight on immigration within the nation, it might be assumed that the progressive approach of California would provide an example the federal government to mimic. After all, after California passed its DREAM Act, 11 other states followed suit with their own versions. But even in California, backwards propositions were passes, equally as discriminatory as the Arizona law.
In 1994, a ballot initiative was passed that prohibited illegal immigrants from having health care, public education, and other social services after a statewide citizenship screening system was established. Opponents called the bill xenophobic and the day after the law was approved, multiple lawsuits were filed leading to the law being invalidated as unconstitutional.
If California is not accepting of immigrants, the rest of the nation falls significantly behind as well. Proving this, similar initiatives since passed in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.
If the stagnated development on immigration reform is because of an inherent racism, then why the sudden surge of interest in immigration reform?
Kevin Johnson, Dean of Academic Affairs at UC Davis School of Law, and Professor of Immigration, Refugee, and Civil Rights Law, spoke about this new immigration push in an interview with Beth Ruyak on the program ‘Insight’ of Capitol Public Radio.
When questioned about the timing of this push for immigration reform, Professor Johnson responded, “I think ‘why now’ is that the November elections have made it very clear that Americans want immigration reform and want immigration reform now…I think at this point in time, Republicans who want to be relevant and remain relevant are thinking hard and carefully about immigration reform, which is very important, not just to Latinos, but to Americans as a whole and are willing to make compromises to get immigration reform to pass.”
Though the possibility of federal immigration reform is promising, the timing suggests that incentives are purely political and the question of the content of the bill looms. Specifically, the process with which immigrants will be legal citizens is a matter in contention.
Johnson said, “The pathway to citizenship is the rub in the proposal, the President proposes that they earn citizenship, but the senate proposal would take longer because it would require a declaration of sorts that the borders are secure because undocumented immigrants are put at the end of the line. When does the process begin?”
What happened to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that the Statue of Liberty promises all immigrants?
According to the California Farm Bureau, two-thirds of crop workers in California are undocumented. These undocumented workers are the backbone to our economy.
Giovanni Peri, a professor of Economics at UC Davis and immigration expert, concluded that undocumented workers do not compete with skilled laborers, but complement them, and in states with more undocumented immigrants, skilled workers make more money as well as worked more hours, making the economy grow. Legal worker’s pay increased by 10% in complementary jobs to undocumented workers between 1990 and 2007.
With promised reform on the horizon, is America any more progressive in its view of immigration? Amnesty has become a dirty word in today’s political climate. When California passed its own version of the Dream Act, this ‘amnesty’ wasn’t considered negative, but an investment in youth’s future and in the future of our state.
Unfortunately, as of now legislation to comprehensively reform immigration is still a dream.