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"The DREAM Act Struggles On, Nameless But Alive"

Student Christopher Cano and other Dream Act supporters protesting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the Republican presidential candidate debate site in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 23, 2012
AP Photo

"The DREAM Act Struggles On, Nameless But Alive"

Op-Ed, Boston Globe

January 26, 2012

Author: Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy (on Leave)

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security

 

IT MAY be tempting to parse every word of President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but the omissions are far more illuminating. Either Obama forgot a line of introduction or Warren Buffett's tax-laden secretary sitting with the First Lady has no name, unless it is "Warren Buffett's secretary." His signature piece of legislation, health care, got barely a sentence of text. And the law that would provide citizenship to those who were raised here as Americans despite their parents' unlawful status and who promise to serve in the military or attend school was only referred to, but not actually identified.

That was no accident. What do you do with a policy known as the DREAM Act but that was defeated by Senate Republicans? Simply, take away its name. Instead of resurrecting the DREAM Act, as many immigration advocacy groups heralded Tuesday night, Obama is pushing the Republicans closer to a compromise that they can't afford to oppose.

He wasn't talking about the all-encompassing, very democratic DREAM Act by name anymore. Selling immigration reform with the American flag and the dollar bill, the State of the Union speech represented a subtle shift in how immigration is discussed and debated. And it's one that Wall Street and Silicon Valley have been begging for.

The original DREAM Act would have granted lawful status to two different classes of illegal immigrants: those who join the military and those who enter any two-year or more higher-education institution. Obama's proposal on Tuesday night seems to drop the second group and replace them with anyone who would focus their education in technology, engineering, or the sciences.

So, listen closely to Obama’s words Tuesday night: "Let's at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship."

He wasn't talking about the all-encompassing, very democratic DREAM Act by name anymore. Selling immigration reform with the American flag and the dollar bill, the State of the Union speech represented a subtle shift in how immigration is discussed and debated. And it's one that Wall Street and Silicon Valley have been begging for.

"You're headed for a one-term presidency," Steve Jobs famously told President Obama, as related in Walter Isaacson’s biography. Jobs's complaint: manufacturing and technical jobs at Apple were moving to China not because it is cheaper, but because the company couldn't find qualified workers to fill 30,000 engineering positions.

Jobs was focused on getting rid of numerical caps on the H-1B visas allowing technical experts to stay and work in the United States. Despite the country's high unemployment rates, science and engineering firms still report difficulty hiring for high-tech jobs in the United States.

Could the corporate appeal of the H-1B visa program be coupled with the idealism of the DREAM Act for an entirely different way of looking at immigration reform? The White House is content to leave the exact statutory proposal nameless as a nod to a potential compromise that may be more limited than the DREAM Act, but a step in the right direction.

It might also be perversely fun for Obama to watch how the Republicans would appeal to Hispanic voters and corporate desires while still not seeming like they are favoring "amnesty for illegals." In the Republican presidential debate in Florida Monday night, both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney struggled to defend their opposition to the DREAM Act while still trying to curry favor with Hispanic voters there. Both eventually said they didn't like the DREAM Act as written, but might find acceptable classes of immigrants that should be given preference, including those who serve in the military.

A mere 24 hours later, Obama matched their military stance and pushed the envelope just a little further by adding technically savvy immigrants. Job creation and American innovation, and the blessing of the late Steve Jobs, will make these reforms difficult to oppose in an election year. Legislation which would focus on limiting barriers for immigrants in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math fields is not the DREAM Act, but it is a step in the right direction.

And, yes, that was Steve Jobs's widow in the Senate gallery on Tuesday night, perhaps hoping to prove her husband wrong about the election in 2012. She was sitting near Warren Buffett's secretary who, like the proposals surrounding this new round of immigration reform, still has no name.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

Full text of this publication is available at:
http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/01/26/the-dream-act-struggles-nameless-b
ut-alive/6JSU0GjtCRAZEk0tnbLFaN/story.html

For Academic Citation:

Kayyem, Juliette. "The DREAM Act Struggles On, Nameless But Alive." Boston Globe, January 26, 2012.

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