Support Passage of The Dream Act
By Roger A. Bernstein
U.S immigration lawyers stand as the front line of defense protecting immigrant families from draconian immigration laws and poorly thought out U.S. immigration policies. Since 1996, our arsenal of legal remedies has been stripped by the enactment of harsh laws that make it exceedingly difficult to remedy the situation of a family who came to this country illegally or overstayed their visa. Even more frustrating is the lack of options for immigrant children who were brought to this country by their parents at a young age and through no fault of their own find themselves young adults with no legal status. As a result, we continue to witness heartbreaking stories of undocumented children rising from humble beginnings who become class valedictorians, are admitted to top universities, serve in Civic Organization, then very abruptly realize their seemingly bright future is jeopardized. Invariably, these hard-working, motivated kids are placed in removal proceedings , unable to work because they are not authorized, not permitted to drive because they cannot obtain a driver’s license, and unable to pursue further education because they cannot afford out-of-state tuition.
Just this past few months in Florida we have witnessed the valedictorian of North Miami High School placed in removal proceedings and a top graduate of Florida State University Law School unable to obtain a license to practice law because of their unlawful status. These situations have created a climate of appropriate outrage and public consternation, but hopefully, too, some momentum for positive change.
The Obama administration has recently publicly shifted its focus, and rightfully so, on removing criminal aliens rather than hard-working undocumented students and families. As it currently stands, the government, in this instance, will defer deportation proceedings for deserving students and families but cannot affirmatively provide any tangible benefit. Immigration judges and well-intentioned Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prosecutors have virtually no discretion to grant or permit meaningful relief. The net result is a stalemate, where talented and deserving youth are not deported to their native countries but are not legally permitted to drive, work or attend school in the United States. They are, in essence, marginalized because of our legislatures’ unwillingness to act, and our communities’ failure to more forcefully advocate for a humane solution.
Now is the time to muster the political will and courage to do the right thing. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million undocumented children and young adults who would benefit from the passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, better known as the DREAM Act. The goal of the DREAM Act is to provide undocumented youth access to residency, university education, and ultimately, productive employment.
The latest version of the DREAM Act, supported by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, has not yet been formally introduced in Congress. Reportedly it is a compromise that satisfies restrictionists’ concerns about not passing an amnesty and provides what should be a politically acceptable process for deserving youth to acquire lawful status. In its present version, however, it falls short of providing lawful permanent residency and providing a path to citizenship. Most immigration advocates welcome the current version as a good first step.
A more gracious and generous version of the DREAM Act, S.952, was introduced in the U.S. Senate on May 11, 2011, but failed to become law. It authorized the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain alien students who are long-term U.S. residents and who entered the United States as children. The bill provided conditional residency, if the “alien” demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence:
(1) five years of continual presence in the United States
(2) entry to the United State while 15 years of age or younger
(3) good moral character since entering the United States
(4) is not otherwise inadmissible
To remove the conditional basis of residency, an alien must establish that he or she has continued to be a person of good moral character and has acquired a degree from an institution of higher education or has completed at least two years in good standing for a bachelors degree or higher degree in the U.S. or has served in the uniformed services for at least two years, and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge.
There is also a hardship exception for those who for extenuating circumstances could not comply with the enumerated conditions.
The benefits of the passage of the DREAM Act have been well-documented. According to the Immigration Policy Center, the taxable income generated by wages from DREAM Act beneficiaries would be staggering. A recent study by UCLA estimated that the total earnings of DREAM Act beneficiaries over the course of their working lives would be between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House version of the Dream Act introduced in 2010 would have reduced the national deficit by more than $2.2 billion over the next decade.
The economic benefits are clear, but the moral imperative is even stronger. For the past two decades, I have practiced immigration law in this community, and watched a generation of undocumented children unable to reach their full potential.
The legislative branch cannot and should not continue to, time and again, turn its back on deserving and motivated young students with boundless potential, who, if permitted to do so, would without question, positively contribute to America’s prosperity and success.
The struggle of these young undocumented children is a result of Congress’ failure to pass meaningful legislation that will keep deserving families together, attract the best and brightest from around the world, fill needed shortages on nurses, engineers and other professionals and welcome investors and entrepreneurs who create jobs. Quite plainly, our country’s immigration system is in need of a major overhaul. Passage of the DREAM Act would be a meaningful first step.
If America is truly the land of opportunity, it should have the wisdom and fortitude to embrace the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant youth who have come to our shores and, by all measures, have succeeded. We cannot continue as a community to turn our backs on these children and young adults who have thrived in our schools and positively contributed to our nation. To continue to ignore their plight is morally reprehensible and strategically, a failure of epic proportions.
Roger Bernstein is a partner in the immigration law firm of Bernstein Osberg-Braun Caco & Solow, LLC. He was the 2011 chair of the Florida Bar’s Immigration Certification Committee. He is admitted to practice law in Florida, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States.
South Florida Legal Guide Midyear 2012 Edition
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