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DREAM Act Will Have First Senate Hearing Next Tuesday; Wednesday, DREAMers Graduate

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DREAM graduateAlmost ten years after the DREAM Act was introduced for the first time in 2001, the bill will now receive its first ever senate hearing next Tuesday — and we have Senator Durbin (D-IL) to thank for it.

Since he authored the bill nearly a decade ago, he has stood by it – which is far more than we can say for Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), its original chief sponsor, who decided to abandon DREAMers when he was a “no show” for the Senate vote on the legislation last year in December. (He called it a “cynical exercise.”)

From the press release announcing the hearing:

“I’ve been working on the DREAM Act for over ten years,” Durbin said. “In that time, it’s been reported out of committee by a large bipartisan margin, passed the House of Representatives, and received a bipartisan majority vote in the Senate, only to fall because of a filibuster. I’ll convene the first-ever Senate hearing on this bill next week to discuss how the DREAM Act will make our country stronger by giving undocumented students a chance to earn legal status if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and complete two years of college or military service in good standing.”

The hearing will be live-cast on the Judiciary Committee website, and rumor has it that it will be live-tweeted here.  For our loyal followers, we’ll have our own twitter take on it @americasvoice. We’ll post more information in the days leading up to the hearing.

The next day (Wednesday, June 29) DREAMers from around the country will adorn caps and gowns for their annual DREAM graduation. Their event, called “Education, Not Deportation,” will highlight the plight of DREAM Act-eligible youth who are facing deportation proceedings.

A little bit of background information: Though they may not entirely agree with the mass-deportation policies espoused by the GOP’s Lamar Smith and Elton Gallegly, the Obama administration has so far deported more people than the Bush administration – and they’re not planning on stopping any time soon. According to Ruben Navarrette in his piece published at the Indystar yesterday:

And what these cowboys have been doing is running a deportation machine that removes about 1,000 people a day. Judging by statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, this administration is an overachiever. In 2009, it removed 389,834 illegal immigrants. In 2010, the figure was 392,862. The goal for 2011 is 404,000.

So the administration will hit the 1 million mark sometime this summer.

Despite the Morton “Prosecutorial Discretion” memo released last Friday, which makes it simple for ICE agents to figure out who to deport and who not to deport (DREAM Act students in good standing wouldn’t be priorities), ICE agents continue with their rogue behavior and ignore their own policies. Mary Giovagnoli explains the memo in her piece at the Huffington Post:

This time around, Morton lists 19 factors, ranging from age and when someone came to the country to community ties and likelihood of relief through a legal benefit in the future. In addition to this non-exhaustive list, the memo emphasizes that some factors should be red flags in a case, indicating the need to look and think carefully about whether it makes sense to go forward. These special factors include whether the person is a veteran or related to someone in the military, is a long time LPR, came to the United States at young age, is pregnant or nursing, has a serious physical or mental disability, is very young or very old, or has a serious health problem.

That’s a lot to take into account, but will likely have a profound impact on DREAM students (who fit into many of the categories listed), vulnerable populations caught up in the immigration system, and military families where family members are in removal proceedings even as a spouse or child is on active military duty. None of these folks have any new form of relief, but under this memo, the direction is clear — these are important factors to take into account when exercising judgment.

So what does the memo mean for future immigration cases? While there are no categorical pronouncements that all DREAM Act students shall receive deferred action or all Secure Communities cases will be halted, the Administration, by articulating the kinds of factors that should go into good decision-making, is signaling both what it finds important and what types of cases merit at least an individualized assessment. This is a long overdue contribution to smart immigration enforcement.

But I doubt ICE agents are consulting this memo when they’re racially profiling and then arresting undocumented immigrants in front of their children on fathers’ day, or as they’re trying to deport a high-acheiving DREAMer back to India.

Talk about giving us mixed signals.

During a year end press conference, Obama said his biggest regret was not being able to pass the DREAM Act. Thought let’s be real — Obama does have some very concrete options.  He might deny it, but he does have the power to grant administrative relief to DREAM Act-eligible youth (or so say 22 Democratic US Senators and the American Immigration Lawyer’s Associaton)…he has the ability to end their pain

Let’s hope that he does. And let’s get the DREAM Act passed.