As window closes on DREAM Act, Colo. Democratic Party Chair rallies support

Although the DREAM Act began its life a decade ago as a Republican proposal and has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, Republicans and key conservative Democrats are now lining up against it, a move Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak lamented Tuesday in a release. The Act would grant citizenship to illegal immigrant young people brought here by their parents and raised in the U.S. provided they complete military service and/or certain levels of education. Waak urged Colorado Republican Reps. Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn to put politics aside and vote for the bill should it come up for a vote this month during the lame duck session of Congress.

“The young people who would benefit from the passage of the DREAM Act are here through no fault of their own,” she said. “If this bill becomes law, they would have the opportunity to become a part of the country that they love by serving our country in the military or by pursuing a higher education.  That’s good for them, and good for the United States – which is why leaders on both sides of the political spectrum agree that this bill needs to become law.  To that end, I urge Members of Congress like Representative Coffman and Representative Lamborn to not let politics get in the way of good policy.  It is imperative the Congress act now so that we can continue to move our country forward.”

The DREAM Act’s prospects for passing this year suffered a blow today when conservative Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson said he would block any move to call a full Senate vote on the legislation. Nelson’s hard-line stand makes it extremely unlikely that majority Democrats can wrangle the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. An attempt in September to bring the bill to the floor failed 52 votes to 44 votes.

Nelson’s reasoning, as laid out in an essay at his website, raises more questions than it answers, like many of the current arguments against the DREAM Act. Nelson said he is “not going to support any legislation that I don’t think adds to jobs, or the military or the economy… Consequently, I won’t support any motion to proceed or any kind of cloture measure on the DREAM Act.”

Yet, as Lynda Waddington at the Iowa Independent reports today, Defense Department strategic planning documents (pdf) described the legislation as a “smart way” to strengthen the country’s “mission-ready, all-volunteer” force.

Waddington also notes that many experts agree that the U.S. economy and longterm U.S. unemployment figures would benefit from the law:

In addition, a national organization of more than 5,700 school, colleges, universities and other education organizations has argued that “the contributions that DREAM Act students would make over their lifetimes would dwarf the small additional investment in their education beyond high school, and the intangible benefits of legalizing and educating these students would be significant.” According to the College Board‘s 2009 study, “education — especially inculcating the supporting strong literacy skills, communication skills and the skills required for what MIT and Harvard economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane call ‘expert thinking’ — generates powerful waves of social good.”

Compelled by what they see as the inadequacy of explanations of DREAM opponents like Nelson, a group of undocumented students joined with labor unions and immigration reform advocates to announce a six-figure ad buy that will finance ads that argue Republicans are spreading lies about the legislation and are “running out of excuses to oppose” it.

The ads will run on Spanish and English media and will target Senators whose votes could be crucial to passing the DREAM Act. The list includes Florida Senator George LeMieux; Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown; Nevada Senator John Ensign; and Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The New York Times today documented the late push supporters are mounting to get the Act passed, but notes that enough Republicans are entrenched on the issue to make passage unlikely.

Polls suggest the DREAM Act is popular with the public. For Latino voters, the DREAM Act is a major policy issue and a sort of candidate litmus test on the left and the right.

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