The DREAM Act was first introduced nine years ago and has been in the press almost weekly for at least a year now, yet you would be hard-pressed to find much written about the reasons opponents have been fighting (successfully) for nearly a decade to prevent the bill from becoming law. The media's blind spot has contributed to the frustration both sides feel today with the chance of compromise no more promising than it was a decade ago.
A sampling of DREAM Act stories from the last two weeks provides typical examples of the press' lack of curiosity.
The Orlando Sentinel quoted a pro-DREAM advocate calling the bill "extremely popular," but included no explanation for its failure to pass for nine straight years other than to make the ridiculous suggestion that the opposition is simply "anti-immigrant." CNN and Politico provided no explanation for opposition at all. The Hill oversimplified the opposition by suggesting (naively, if technically correct) that opponents "panned the DREAM Act during the campaign as granting “amnesty” to illegal immigrants."
Other outlets fared only slightly better. The Arizona Republic quoted Roy Beck saying the DREAM Act was "loophole ridden," but didn't state what the loopholes might be (another article provided no explanation for opposition). The San Antonio Express-News quoted a statement from Sen. Hutchison saying "the current legislation goes far beyond the intended group of children who have grown up in America," but didn't elaborate how.
Only two articles that I found gave more than a snippet of detail. ABC News quoted Roy Beck:
"Some of these [immigrants] are compelling cases, no doubt about it," said Beck. "But you've got to draw some lines a lot narrower than the DREAM Act draws them. This is about giving millions of illegal aliens permanent work permits, and I don't think in this economy that this is a very happy time to be doing that."
"Krikorian says the DREAM Act is [sic] goes too far by including students who arrived in the U.S. before they were 16, and have stayed here for at least five years. 'It has to be lowered to something like 8 or 10 years old, so that we're covering kids who actually have grown up as Americans, psychologically and culturally,' he says. 'Secondly, all amnesties create problems, one of which is that they draw more illegal immigration in the future.'"
The ABC News and Maine Public Broadcasting Network articles are the rare exceptions to the rule, and the quotes above are the full extent to which they provide readers with any details about the opposition. Most stories either ignore the opposition altogether or trivialize the debate as The Hill did.
Is there more support for legalizing some students than reporters realize?
Polls indicate that American voters (even those who generally oppose amnesty) have great sympathy for students with compelling cases, and would likely support a bill that would limit the amnesty to those cases only. Many of these same people, however, strongly oppose the DREAM Act because they believe it is a badly flawed bill. Who are these people and what does their opposition stem from? Here are three examples of groups of people (and their concerns) that the media has neglected:
People concerned with the DREAM Act's susceptibility to fraud:
Anyone who claims to meet the criteria for the amnesty must be granted legal status unless the government spends the time and the money to prove that they don't. In its lawsuit against Arizona, the federal government states that it would be overwhelmed if Arizona police asked the immigration status of suspects (see page 16 of Judge Bolton's ruling); there are an estimated 500,000 illegal aliens in Arizona; the Migration Policy Institute conservatively estimates that 2.1 million (nearly the size of the 1986 IRCA amnesty) people would be eligible for the DREAM Act legalization. In 1986 the agency running the amnesty program (the now-defunct INS), faced similar problems to today's USCIS. Fully one-quarter of those granted legal status in 1986 had secured that status through fraud.
There is a national security element to these people's concern: the DREAM Act would prevent DHS from deporting aliens who’ve applied for the amnesty until their applications are resolved – and if DHS eventually decides that some aliens do not qualify for the amnesty, DHS cannot use the statements aliens made in their applications to deport them, because their statements are protected by the confidentiality section in the DREAM Act. Savvy criminal aliens could halt or slow their deportations long enough to be released back into the general population (by law, a criminal alien who is subject to a final order of removal must be released from DHS custody within 90 days if his removal is not “reasonably foreseeable.”)
People concerned about chain migration's multiplying effect:
DREAM recipients can eventually sponsor their parents and/or other adult relatives for legal status, including those adults who broke the law and put the original DREAM recipient in their lamentable situation. Each of those family members can then sponsor their extended family, and so on. Chain migration guarantees that the numerical impact of the DREAM Act would be much, much larger than the Migration Policy Institutes estimate. Current immigration levels will be responsible for 82 percent of U.S. population growth between now and 2050, when we expected to reach 439 million people. The DREAM Act would force a faster doubling of the U.S. population, which is troubling to people concerned with environmental sustainability and economic justice for vulnerable American workers.
People concerned about innocent children being forced into the same situation in the future:
The DREAM Act does nothing to prevent or discourage parents from around the world from bringing in their children illegally and putting them in the same position. If anything the DREAM Act would encourage more parents to put their children in this position in hope of a future amnesty. The DREAM Act would be eighth amnesty since 1986; illegal immigration increased after the first seven, and there is no reason to believe that it wouldn't increase under the eighth.
The people in the three groups above have had no voice in the press. A bill that addressed their concerns would deserve serious discussion. Unfortunately, people who rely on the press for their information have no idea what those concerns even are.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Nov 30th 2010 @ 11:56am EST