Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today became the latest member in President Obama’s cabinet to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act when it comes up for a vote. A version of the DREAM Act could come up for a vote in the House as early as Friday, according to immigration advocacy groups.
“I know that Congress is going to be considering the DREAM Act soon and I wanted to reemphasize my support for it,” Sec. Napolitano said on a press call today, adding that even though the DREAM Act directly benefits many of the nation’s economic, education, and national defense priorities, it is important for her agency’s immigration enforcement work as well.
“From where I sit I think it’s important to point out that it fits into a larger strategy of immigration enforcement and complements the Department of Homeland Security plan to prioritize enforcement resources to remove dangerous criminal aliens from the country,” the Secretary said, omitting the fact that under her watch the U.S. has actually deported plenty of people with no prior criminal convictions, including DREAM Act-eligible youth.
The DREAM Act would grant undocumented youth with clean criminal records who came to the country as kids and who commit two years to the military or higher education a pathway to citizenship. Democrats are working a last-minute push to pass the bill in the lame-duck session before the Republicans take over the House and gain new seats in the Senate next year.
“The DREAM Act is one thing that Congress can do right now to help the Department of Homeland Security do its job of enforcing immigration laws in the way that makes the most sense for public safety for our national security,” Napolitano said.
Might the Department of Homeland Security consider putting a moratorium on deportations of DREAM Act-eligible youth while the bill is under consideration? Sec. Napolitano didn’t hesitate in her answer: “No.”
“Our job is to enforce the law and we’re going to continue to do that,” Napolitano said. “We do not have the option under the law to simply say we will not enforce it while Congress considers [the DREAM Act].”
Napolitano then repeated what has become a familiar boast from the Obama administration: “We have in the last two years led a historic move to remove a record number of illegal aliens of criminal offenses,” Napolitano proudly said. “195,000 just in fiscal year 2010, a 70 percent increase over the last year of the previous administration in fiscal year 2008.” In fact, the total number of those deported was 392,000–the rest had never been convicted of anything before the country forced them out.
Napolitano, and indeed the entire Obama administration, are in a tricky bind. They are on the record as being in favor of immigration reform to ease the urgent needs of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who wait for some kind of overhaul. President Obama has been a longtime supporter of the DREAM Act. And yet in the last two years Obama has repeatedly supported enforcement-only measures that criminalize the immigrant community and beef up militarization of the border.
But the White House stepped into the DREAM Act fray in a big way in recent weeks, beginning with an announcement from President Obama in November that he and his administration would put their full weight behind the DREAM Act to help it get passed before the end of the year.
Aside from its common-sense merits – the Department of Defense has included the DREAM Act in its strategic plan for next year, and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan has said that the DREAM Act is crucial for the nation’s education goals – the DREAM Act is one of the easiest immigration bills to support in part because it is so narrowly defined. Under the latest version of the DREAM Act filed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday night, only undocumented youth with a clean criminal record who arrived in the country before the age of 16 and have lived in the country for five years, but who are today under the age of 30 may qualify. After that, there are myriad hurdles DREAM Act-eligible youth must overcome, including a decade-long wait for permanent residency.
And still, the majority of Republicans and a host of skittish Democrats are unsure about whether or not they will support the DREAM Act when it comes up for a vote. For months the vote count has looked uncertain at best. DREAM Act advocacy, meanwhile, has reached a fever pitch, both in D.C. and around the rest of the country.