President Obama's announcement last month that he would defer deportations for undocumented youth who were brought to the United States illegally as children marked a long-fought victory for Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, who has been advocating on such kids' behalf or 11 years.
In a speech at the Center for American Progress, Durbin gave kudos to the first "dreamer" he met, a musical prodigy who had been brought to the country by her parents at the age of two. Her mother, an American citizen, had not filed citizenship papers for her. She was in the country illegally.
Durbin then drafted the first version of the Dream Act, a bill to give undocumented young people who had spent their lives as Americans the chance to earn citizenship. The bill has stalled in Congress for a decade, and Durbin has profiled 50 teens in similar situations over the years. His message on Tuesday was intended to assure the "dreamers" that he has not forgotten that there is more to be done. The Obama administration's deferral program for undocumented youth will only give these kids two years of relief.
"Ultimately the responsibility lies with Congress to pass the DREAM Act and give these bright ambitious young people a path to citizenship in America," he said.
It is an overt political message to young people on behalf of Democrats. Durbin knows better than anyone that Republicans are dead set against the Dream Act and any other proposals that will give "amnesty" to illegal immigrants, no matter how they got into the country. Even conservatives who once supported the Dream Act (among them Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah) have since backed away from it, fearing retaliation from their party. Critics say the legislation could open the door for millions of foreigners at a time when the fragile economy can't handle the influx.
"Immigration has become this third rail political issue inside the Republican party," said Brad Bailey, a Texas restaurant owner and GOP delegate to the Republican National Convention, in an interview with National Journal. "A lot of rhetoric is thrown at it without solutions." For Bailey, who is trying to drum up support among conservatives for a temporary foreign worker program, the Dream Act is bad news for conservatives because it offers a path to citizenship--the dreaded "amnesty" provision that has killed every immigration bill for at least 10 years.