How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Immigration politics: What to expect next

Photo by Eric White/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A stretch of border fence through the desert, Imperial Sand Dunes, California.

As the 111th U.S. Congress heads out the door without an immigration overhaul to its credit and a new Republican-led House takes over in January, what happens now?

In recent days, a series of requiems have emerged for the broad reforms that were promised by the Obama administration, as have predictions of two years of enforcement-based immigration measures.

Here are a few selections:

The Washington Post published an essay by University of Southern California journalism and public policy professor Roberto Suro, former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, titled "A lost decade for immigration reform." From the piece:

Like so much else about the past decade, things didn't go well. Immigration policy got kicked around a fair bit, but next to nothing got accomplished. Old laws and bureaucracies became increasingly dysfunctional. The public grew anxious. The debates turned repetitive, divisive and sterile.

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Q&A: UCSD immigration expert Wayne Cornelius on why the Dream Act went down

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Participants in a vigil and rally for the Dream Act in downtown Los Angeles earlier this month

The defeat in the Senate last Saturday of the Dream Act, which would have granted conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented college students, graduates and military hopefuls who arrived here before age 16, was just the most recent action on a proposal that has been circulating for nearly a decade. And each time it has come up for a vote, UC San Diego's Wayne Cornelius has followed it, as he has every other federal immigration proposal that has come and gone since then.

Cornelius is one of the nation's leading scholars on immigration and U.S.-Mexico border issues, a political scientist and director emeritus of UCSD's Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. He is now associate director of the university's Center of Expertise on Migration and Health.

After years of observing the politics of immigration, Cornelius has his own take on why the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed this time around, in spite of unprecedented student activism and a streamlining of the bill that allowed it to clear the House. He shares his opinion on the Obama administration's strategy of pushing tough enforcement as a means to win support for broader immigration reform, a strategy he believes is doomed to fail.

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After the Dream Act vote, a few more good reads

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A sign at a Dream Act rally in Los Angeles last summer

With the amount of student activism surrounding it and the coverage it has received, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, otherwise known as the Dream Act, has perhaps been the biggest immigration story of 2010.

The bill, which would have provided conditional legal status for qualifying undocumented youths who attended college or joined the military, won House approval earlier this month but died during a Senate procedural vote Saturday morning, after falling five votes short of the necessary 60 needed for cloture.

And following its defeat, there has been no shortage of news, analysis, and discussion. Here are a few interesting items related to the bill that I've come across in the past couple of days:


  • The New York Times had a good analysis of how the Obama administration's tougher immigration policies - including a record number of deportations - failed to achieve the objective of winning over Republican support for the trade-off, i.e. a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system. The Dream Act was considered "the easiest piece to pass."

  • ColorLines had a feature on the student movement that helped make the Dream Act the story of the year, bringing new attention to proposed legislation that has circulated for nearly a decade. The hallmark of this activism has been undocumented students going public with their status, risking deportation in the process. "That the DREAM Act made it as far as it did in 2010 is a testament to a national, youth-led grassroots movement," the story reads.

  • The Atlantic Wire posted five different takes from five different pundits on the legislation, its defeat, and its political fallout. Call it a roundup within a roundup.

  • Latino Decisions pollster Matt Barreto wrote about how those who voted against the bill may have trouble with Latino voters in the next election. "As the 2012 election cycle takes shape, and the issues are defined and debated, it is unlikely that votes on the DREAM Act will be forgotten by Latino voters, 88% of whom supported the bill's passage," he wrote.

  • The U.S. Senate website lists the roll call of votes from Saturday. The votes (55 in favor, 41 against) fell mostly along partisan lines, although three Republicans voted for the bill, and five Democrats voted against it.

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From readers, more thoughts on the Dream Act

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A homemade poster on the wall of the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, where student activists gathered to call legislators before the House vote on the Dream Act earlier this month. December 8, 2010

Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion on the Dream Act this weekend, after Saturday's procedural vote in the Senate. I spent the morning with a group of students and other supporters as they made last-minute calls to legislators and watched the vote take place on C-SPAN, posting updates as the voting proceeded. The bill fell five votes short of the 60 needed for cloture, with 55 senators voting for it and 41 against, mostly along partisan lines.

After it was over, Multi-American readers posted comments in what became a rather heated debate. Here's an excerpt from one typical back-and-forth, unedited.

Argentinachick13 wrote:

I’m 17 years old. I came to this country when I was 6 years old. I’m a Junior in Highschool, good grades, never got in trouble by cops. The one thing I want, and that I’m missing? A future. I want to go to college, I want a career, I want an opportunity. Yes I was born in another country (Argentina) but I grew up here, I made friends here, I have a life here, I’m going the right path for a good future. I can’t just throw all my hard work, dedication, and friends away and go back to Argentina and having to start all over again.

Just because I was born somewhere else, doesn’t make me less of a person. I’m still a human being, who wants to get somewhere in life. I was watching the debate this morning. I had tears in my eyes because we were short of 5 points. And I ask myself, what’s going to happen now? Hopefully the selfish senates will make the right decision and not think of themselves for a chage, and let other people have an opportunity too. But..one can only hope.

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Before the vote, a few good Dream Act reads

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A homemade poster on the wall of the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, where student activists gathered last week to call legislators before the House vote on the Dream Act, December 8, 2010

With a Senate vote on the Dream Act now in the works for tomorrow morning, there is no shortage of reading material pertaining to the bill, which would grant conditional legal status to undocumented youths who either attend college or join the military, provided they arrived here before age 16 and meet other strict criteria.

A recent version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was approved by the House last week, and a procedural vote on that version is anticipated tomorrow morning in the Senate.

In spite of unprecedented student activism and popular support (a recent Gallup poll showed a narrow majority of respondents in approval), its chances of success in the Senate are slim: As of yet, there is insufficient Republican support for the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. The Senate is also expected to vote tomorrow on the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military.

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