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Keep DREAMing: The November Elections and What It Means For Comprehensive Immigration Reform

by Michael Wildes and Leon Wildes

While the midterm elections didn't result in the kind of political upheaval that had been forecast before they took place, November 2nd did deliver Republican control to the House of Representatives. Now that Congress is split between a Democratic Senate and a Republican House, what will become of comprehensive immigration reform? Will the next two years bring substantive change to the system of United States immigration?

Not likely. It has been twenty-five years since the last significant changes were made to the U.S. immigration laws. It would be heartening if the wave of newly-elected Republicans picked up where one of their "founding fathers," Ronald Reagan, left off in the 1980s but the Republican platform on immigration differs so dramatically from the Democrats' that it would be nearly impossible with the slim margins that each party holds over the other. Comprehensive immigration reform may be out of the question: any legislation that makes it through the House will be squashed in the Senate and vice versa. The Obama administration for its part has carried on with business-as-usual Bush-era tactics of local and business-based immigration enforcement, without pushing real federal reform through the legislature in Congress. Our government's reliance on costly deportations and ICE enforcement wastes countless man-hours, stymies economic growth and continues to drain public resources. The longer this wait goes on, the more money our government loses: both in hefty administrative costs as well as lost tax revenue.

If comprehensive immigration reform is off the table, then perhaps we should set our sights lower and hope for smaller pieces of legislation, like the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, which has come before the Senate as recently as September 21, 2010, would provide the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency to certain inadmissible or deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. Said students would be required to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning. Most recently the bill failed to gain cloture with a vote of 56-43, only 4 votes short of overcoming a filibuster by senators opposed to the bill. Without the pressure of the midterm elections, perhaps this bill would receive more support a second time around, but the 2012 elections are not so far away themselves.

In case you're not familiar with the auspicious trajectory of the DREAM act, a similar version of the bill made it to Congress in 2001 and failed. It was later incorporated into the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and failed then too. Then yet again in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Later it was added as an amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense Authorization Bill where it ultimately failed again. In 2009, again, the DREAM Act was introduced to Congress and, once again, failed to gain the support it needed. That brings us back to the 2010 incarnation of the bill, which-as mentioned before-failed to gain cloture.

Each incarnation of the DREAM Act has been revised and rebranded to earn it the support it needs to finally pass but to no avail. Will moderate Democrats who lost their seats in the November election finally lend their support before their replacements are sworn in in January? Only time will tell. Certainly this has not been an easy piece of legislation to push through and the difficulties it has met are representative of the general forces at play that inhibit immigration reform in general.

Immigration is an incendiary topic and one of biggest wedge issues still at play on the national stage. The abortion debate, for example, has grown largely quiet over the last several years. The flames that fuel the immigration debate, on the other hand, have been stoked by measures like Arizona's SB 1070 law, which criminalizes a civil matter and deputizes police officers to practice federal law. Other similar laws are in the pipeline in states like Nebraska, Utah and Texas. These controversial actions are a direct response to the public's frustration with the broken immigration system and with Washington's seeming refusal to address them.

The history of the DREAM Act is itself a metaphor for immigration reform in this country. Everyone seems to have an opinion about it but not one voice has been able to rise above the discord. Nearly every year a piece of immigration reform legislation comes before Congress, much as the DREAM Act has, and meets insurmountable barriers. If the past has anything to teach us, it's that these measures stand as little a chance of passing this year as they ever have, and yet we'll keep hoping and trying until one day it finally does.

About The Author

Michael J. Wildes is the Managing Partner of the leading immigration law firm, Wildes & Weinberg P.C., and a former Federal Prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn (1989-1993). He also is the former mayor of Englewood and a member of Gov. Jon Corzine's Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrant Policy.

Leon Wildes the founder of the firm, serves as Senior Partner. Holding J.D. and LL.M. degrees from the New York University School of Law, he is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, where he teaches immigration law. He regularly publishes scholarly articles in the field and lectures widely to both immigration lawyers and lawyers in general practice, and has practiced in the field for fifty years. A recognized authority in his field, he served as National President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and has testified before the United States Congress as an expert in immigration matters. Awarded the Edith Lowenstein Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to the field of Immigration Law, he is best known for his successful representation of former Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in deportation proceedings spanning a five year period.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.