By Emma Begag
Marco Rubio, Florida Republicans’ golden politician, has served as the state’s Junior Republican Senator since November 2, 2010. Born into a Cuban immigrant family, Rubio himself has weighed in with his opinion on the immigration reform issue. On April 1, 2012, he was interviewed on Fox News by Juan Williams regarding the status of the Development Relief and Education measure for Alien Minors, (DREAM ACT), a bill which was first introduced in 2001 and then effectively tabled by Congress since December. The proposed law would provide permanent residency to a certain category of undocumented immigrants, who either have graduated from a U.S. high school, or have been accepted into an institution of higher education, or who have completed two years of military service. The law would affect an estimated 65,000 students, who have grown up in the U.S. It is meant to address the latter’s effective lack of official legal status which prevents them from attending college or acquiring legal employment. It is scandalous that children who have spent a major part of their lives in the United States, and who speak English as their first language, should be considered as illegal immigrants. Indeed, to make certain that the undocumented students are familiar enough with the American society, one of the Dream Act prerequisites is that they entered the United States before the age of 16 and having spent at least five consecutive years living in the U.S. These immigrants have made the same investment in American society and have the same cultural roots as native born children, and therefore should be treated in the same fashion.
On Miami’s ideological chessboard, Rubio is a member of a GOP interest group known for its hostility to the naturalization and admission of immigrants to this country. For many members of the Republican Party, the DREAM ACT unquestionably represents an “amnesty for immigration.” Rubio specifically targets the components of the bill that he believes would allow chain immigration to proliferate and illegal immigration to grow, “I don’t support the Dream act as currently drafted,” as “the kids are going to be helped but they could use that position to bring in their relatives.” Nevertheless, he has endorsed the bill’s educational provision: “I support the idea behind the DREAM ACT, which is helping these young kids.” For this reason, Rubio is currently working on drafting his own version of the measure that would offer legal status for undocumented students without a predictable pathway to citizenship. Rubio has currently announced that he wanted the bill to be introduced in the Senate in June and to be effective in the fall of the 2012 semester. This new “in-between status” is unacceptable to a number of immigrant rights advocates because it does not acknowledge the full dignity of this subgroup of the undocumented. A New York Times article on March 27 observes that Rubio’s pending legislation would be tantamount to a “newly invented third-class status — not illegal, but not American.” Senator Rubio’s statement asserting that Americans “are the most compassionate people in the world” and that they are a people who are pro-legal immigration “in their heart” is blatantly disingenuous. If Rubio seeks to deny a path to full citizenship even to the category of persons residing in the US since childhood, one cannot expect a “most compassionate” response to comprehensive immigration reform. In order to treat persons with full dignity, they must not be treated as mere objects in a politics of immigration policy that uses compassion as a cover for what is, at best, only a piecemeal solution.
The Miami Herald ran an article on April 7 quoting Rubio saying that “it’s a non-immigrant visa, so it doesn’t put them on a path in and of itself to residency and then citizenship. But it does legalize their status, it wipes out any of these immigration penalties that they might be facing, and it allows them to go on with their lives with some level of certainty.” As the Hispanically Speaking News argued on March 28, this new Republican version of the DREAM ACT is an attempt by the GOP to appeal to Latino votes; however, this does not address the original concern of the DREAM ACT which is to legalize the status of a subgroup of immigrants. It is also not clear how the U.S. national interest would benefit from Rubio’s gutting of the most important features of the DREAM ACT.
The initial version of the DREAM ACT arguably benefits both immigrants and the U.S. First of all, the bill would allow students to attain education benefits and readily advance their chances of social mobility while also preventing “brain drain” from the U.S. Indeed, youth immigration clearly represents a significant percentage of the U.S. domestic future labor force. By offering a younger, more flexible, vibrant and educated labor force, under the DREAM ACT’s terms, the young and educated would no longer be forced to leave the country due to the non-documentation issue. Students that have been trained in the U.S., 1.5 million according to the Pew Hispanic Center in 2009, would be assured legal status in the U.S. Some states have passed laws providing in-state tuition and assistance for undocumented students but the benefit of those measures are compromised without the DREAM ACT, as it does not support them after graduating. The first states to permit certain undocumented students to apply for in-state tuition were California and Texas in 2001 and currently, twelve states have such legislation. This is a first step in the right direction.
Today, U.S. immigration policy has become a major regional issue, which is pending a solution. While the DREAM ACT addresses only one subgroup of undocumented immigrants, it concerns a fundamental moral aspect of recognizing the humanity of persons who are truly rooted in North American life and culture from the earliest phase of childhood. In some sense it draws attention to what has not yet been achieved: comprehensive immigration reform. When asserting that “there is no limbo,” and “the limbo is what they have now,” Rubio implies that immigrants should be grateful for his compromise proposal. The Rubio compromise, however, could be said to undermine the more compassionate and rational attempt to remedy this “limbo” status. It is doubtful that this Republican version of the DREAM ACT will be successful in placating the immigrant rights community. As for tea cup party, it is unlikely that they will fool Latino voters.
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Emma Begag, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs