When we can't even forgive the children of illegal immigrants, when we insist on penalizing them for decisions made by their parents, there's something wrong with us.
On the scale that measures our compassion as a nation, we must be at an all-time low. When the U.S. Senate voted to stop debating the DREAM Act last week, we showed how much "progress" we have made toward becoming a nation of hardened and mean-spirited xenophobes.
This is the bill that would have given many young, mostly Latino, "Americans" an incentive to stay in high school and an opportunity to pursue a college education. I say "Americans" because that's what they consider themselves. These are mostly youths who came here as young children — brought here illegally by their parents — and know no other country but the United States. If you deported them to their native homelands, it is there that they would feel like foreigners.
Many of them are extremely talented students, and the DREAM Act would have lifted the barriers that keep them from seeking college educations. It would have made it easier for them to find colleges that allow them to enroll and pay in-state tuition, rather than the exorbitant out-of-state fees charged by many colleges to illegal immigrant students even when they reside in the same state.
The bill would have granted conditional legal status to about 700,000 young illegal immigrants who entered the United States before age 16 and have lived here for at least five years. If they showed "good moral character," no criminal records and if they graduated from high school and served in the military or completed two years of college, their conditional statuses would be lifted. And after five more years, they could apply for U.S. citizenship.
Of all the pro-immigrant measures included in the comprehensive immigration reform package that got thrown out of Congress this year, this one was the least ambitious. Standing alone, if this measure didn't clear the conservative, anti-immigrant hurdles, nothing would. And when DREAM Act supporters fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to advance the bill last Wednesday, it served as a clear indication of how much ground conservative extremists have gained in their efforts to demonize the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants.
But it also showed how ineffective the Democratic leadership can be, especially in delivering at least some crumbs to the Latino voters who keep electing them. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who continues to blame Republicans for blocking comprehensive reform legislation, could not rein in his own party members to vote for a tiny part of it. Amazingly, eight Democrats joined 36 Republicans in killing the American dream for many young people who never decided to become illegal immigrants or to break any U.S. law. That decision was made for them, by their parents.
The vote on this bill also proved that we no longer can clearly define the immigration battle along party lines. Remarkably, 12 Republicans joined 38 Democrats and two independents in supporting the bill. This means Latinos and other pro-immigrant voters need to start crossing party lines on Election Day. It means they must start organizing and exchanging information to identify the amigos and enemigos to their cause. After all, their conservative enemigos have become quite good at it and quite powerful.
Notably absent from the DREAM Act vote was Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has been so battered by the anti-immigrant forces that he has begun to turn against the very principles of the fight he led. When you see a man of conviction such as McCain flip-flopping, that's when you know how powerful the anti-immigrant forces have become.
There were other noteworthy votes on this bill. The ultimate hypocrites were a few senators, such as Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who say they like the DREAM Act and would vote for it, but only if it is part of a comprehensive reform package. They want us to believe they are so-o-o-o-o much with us that they must vote against us.
The White House expressed similar hypocrisy. Their argument, believe it or not, is that getting some pro-immigrant reforms individually weakens their position to get a comprehensive bill — as if we live in fantasyland and believe anything comprehensive is still possible. Hypocritically, they want to be able to tell both sides of the immigration debate that they voted in their best interests.
But the current immigration hysteria no longer can be blamed solely on mean-spirited and two-faced Republicans. In fact, this time, it was the Democrats who failed us. These are Democrats who are obviously more concerned about the wrath of the anti-immigrant forces than the disappointment of unorganized Hispanic voters.
Before they can play in the same league with the anti-immigrant forces, Latinos and other immigrants need to organize a much stronger political lobby — one that will identify the enemigos regardless of their party affiliations.
Sometimes it seems as if some pro-immigrant activists and some organizations are so married to the Democrats that they don't get as offended when Democrats vote against them. On the Republican side, at least sometimes you see Latino Republicans, such as Sen. Mel Martinez or Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who take stands against their fellow Republicans when the Latino/immigrant bashing becomes too strong. But on the Democratic side, you don't see too many Latino Democrats challenging the bashers in their own party.
In the coming months before the 2008 election, Latinos and other immigrant voters must identify the amigos and the enemigos — even in their own communities.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.