WASHINGTON — “If you were wondering,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at the end of a Tuesday hearing about the latest version of DREAMer legislation — where Republicans focused on border security instead — “why this measure has been pending for 20 years and witnessed this hearing, you have some indication why.”
Indeed, the hearing was a compressed version of what Durbin has been up against these past 20 years, with immigration issues harder to negotiate now in this polarized post-Trump era.
DREAMers are immigrants brought to the U.S. as youths who remain here illegally through no fault of their own. For many, the U.S. is the only country they have called home.
With a Democratic White House, Senate and House, there is another push going on now, this time for the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, which passed the House. Even in the best of times, it’s hard to see how the Senate would accept the entire House measure without some significant revisions. But that’s what the negotiating process is for — that is, if the process was working.
The window for Democrats to act shrinks each day, since Democrats could lose both chambers in 2022.
The newest DREAMer legislation was the topic of Durbin’s Senate hearing.
Twenty years ago, Durbin started his crusade to protect DREAMers when he introduced, with then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a bill that gave the movement its name: the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. Over the years, different versions of DREAMer bills have gained majority votes in the Senate — but not the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster.
Nine years ago Tuesday, former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The policy — called DACA for short — provided temporary legal protections to DREAMers.
DACA opened doors for DREAMers. This stopgap measure was needed because Congress has never passed any permanent plan.
One of the witnesses at the hearing was Dr. Manuel Bernal Mejia, a DREAMer who is now a third-year emergency medicine resident at Advocate Christ Medical Center in south suburban Oak Lawn.
His parents brought him to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 2 years old, he told the senators.
Because of DACA, Mejia was able to enroll at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Loyola was the first medical school in the nation to admit DREAMers.
What one president can make happen with a penstroke, another can take away. Former President Donald Trump tried to end the DACA program. Trump was blocked by court rulings, but one still pending in Texas threatens DREAMers.
During the hearing Tuesday, Republicans, especially the Trumpists on the panel, wanted to focus on security at the U.S.-Mexico border. They played up the potential of illegal immigrants being killers on the run. Yes, you’ve heard these scare tactics before.
Spotlighting illegal immigrants who commit terrible crimes — not necessarily DREAMers who grew up in the U.S. — has been, is and will be the Trump play.
When it comes to immigration policy, the issues have never been and don’t have to be either/or.
As Durbin said in his opening statement at the hearing, regarding the southern border, “We are not going to ignore that reality, but this is a reality as well. For too many years, Congress has looked the other way and found another excuse to put off this decision. It’s time to allow these individuals — these future Americans — to finally become American citizens.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump announced he “accepted the invitation of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to join him on an official visit to our Nation’s decimated Southern Border” on June. 30.
After the hearing, Durbin was among those at the White House for a DACA anniversary event hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris. “I’m here on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration to tell you this administration fully intends to do everything in our power to protect our DREAMers,” Harris said.
Biden assigned Harris to deal with the “root causes” of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Harris has yet to visit the southern border. She fumbled an answer about why she hasn’t gone so far, fueling Trump Republicans and FOX hosts who have turned that lack of a border trip into a sideshow. Trump and Trumpsters are attacking Harris to maintain immigration as a wedge issue, while ignoring how law-abiding DREAMers remain without permanent protections.