Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Republican lawmakers on Tuesday stalled a Senate measure to allow children of undocumented immigrants to get on a path to citizenship, and accused the Obama administration of seeking amnesty for illegal immigrants through administrative changes within the Department of Homeland Security.
The Dream Act, which would grant permanent residency to immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and who have completed some time in college or in the armed forces has been a sought-after goal for Democrats, who attached the measure to an important defense spending bill. Republicans used a procedural vote to block the bill. Immigration advocates accused Republicans of sacrificing the well-being of thousands of young people to cater to nativist sentiment.
Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the vote showed that the Republican party had “once again proven that when Latinos need support, they support a different constituency even when the constituency they are supporting does not have a dog in the fight. If my kids are legal and they are going to college, why would I want to stick it to my neighbor’s kids?”
Senate Democrats vowed to reintroduce the Dream Act, but odds of the measure becoming law this year are slim.
In a day of fast-moving action, Republicans released a draft of a memo they said was composed by Department of Homeland Security staff to explore ways to create a more lenient immigration system, with expedited approvals for visas and family reunification, and measures to head off deportations of undocumented immigrants.
“Done right, a combination of benefit and enforcement-related measures could provide the administration with a clear-cut political win,” reads the draft memo, dated Feb. 26, 2010. The draft, released by Republican senators to the news media, does not cite an author. A Republican congressional staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the matter said the memo was sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“We would need to give the legislative process enough time to play out to deflect against charges of usurping Congressional authority,” the 10-page memo says. Referring to the hopes for passing comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), it adds, “announcement of such measures would have to wait until it was evident that no legislative action on CIR was possible by the current Congress. This is likely to mean the best time for administrative action will be late summer or fall — when the midterm election season is in full swing.”
The idea that the department was seeking to administratively accomplish what Democratic lawmakers had failed to deliver legislatively was ludicrous, said Matt Chandler, a DHS spokesman.
“As we have said repeatedly, DHS will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation’s illegal immigrant population,” he said in an e-mail, as he explained that the agency welcomed policy proposals from staff, but rejected bad ideas. Already, he added, immigration authorities’ “record-breaking enforcement statistics speak for themselves – removing more aliens in 2009 than in any prior year in the agency’s history and already surpassing records for criminal alien removals in 2010 – and demonstrate that we are doing more than ever before to enforce U.S. immigration laws. To be clear, we are not engaged in a ‘backdoor’ amnesty and are on pace to place more people in immigration proceedings this year than ever before.”
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
With an important vote on the emotional issue of immigration due today in the U.S. Senate, former secretary of state Colin Powell — son of Jamaican immigrants — chose this past weekend to join the fray.
Appearing on the NBC program “Meet the Press” Sunday, Powell voiced support for the pending immigration bill known as the Dream Act. He also attacked political conservatives, including members of his own Republican party, for their “hostility” toward immigrants.
Powell’s words echoed around the country, including in Florida, where thousands of individuals could be affected by the vote. Some South Florida conservatives took issue with his comments.
The Dream Act addresses the legal status of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, have lived here for at least five years and have either graduated from high school or earned a General Equivalency Diploma. It would allow those individuals to qualify for permanent residence either by completing two years of college or by serving two years in the U.S. military.
The Dream Act has been attached to a military appropriations bill and the Senate will hold a crucial procedural vote on the military bill today.
The armed forces have backed the Dream Act, because it will afford them a new population from which to recruit. In fact the military already has thousands of enlistees who are not full U.S. citizens.
Powell, a retired four-star general and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, closed ranks with his fellow military men.
He said a path to legal status should be offered to illegal immigrants, not just because of the role they could play in the military, but because they “are doing things we need done in this country.”
Powell said he knew this from his own experience.
“They’re all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I’m sure you’ve seen them at your house,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status.”
A moderate Republican, Powell was President George W. Bush’s first-term secretary of state and was once considered a strong candidate for the GOP presidential or vice presidential nominations in 2008. In the end, he stayed out of the race and endorsed Democrat Barack Obama.
During the Sunday interview, Powell lamented the GOP’s stance, not only against the Dream Act but against other new immigration legislation proposed by Obama that would open a path to legal residence for 11 million undocumented people now in the country. He said Republicans must not become anti-immigrant because immigration offers the U.S. a chance to maintain a youthful population in contrast with the aging of Europe and Japan.
Powell also said “fringe” elements on the right are taking a low road when they label Obama a foreign-born Muslim and peddle other false theories about non-American influences on the president’s character. Obama was born in the U.S. and is Christian.
“Let’s attack him on policy, not nonsense,” he said.
He also said the conservative activist organization known as the Tea Party would not become an enduring force in U.S. politics until it moves beyond slogans and promotes an agenda that people “can see, touch and actually believe in.”
In South Florida, Tea Party spokesmen reiterated its opposition to the Dream Act.
“The Dream Act is a form of amnesty,” said Everett Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Tea Party based in Palm Beach County.
Wilkinson also opposed the fact that the Dream Act had been attached to a military appropriations bill, despite the fact that the military has supported the Dream Act. “I am not against foreigners and we are not against education and or against defense, but these are separate issues,” he said.
Broward-based Tea Party spokesman Tim McClellan said he also opposed most elements of the Dream Act.
“We have to stop kowtowing to illegal aliens,” he said.
But McClellan said he would support legislation that offered a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented people who serve in the armed forces.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” McClellan said. “If you’re willing to risk your life for the U.S., for freedom, that’s a different situation.”
The Associated Press and Post researcher Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.