The Re-election of President Barack Obama: Elections Do Have Consequences

Obama V. Romney 2012For those who think their vote does not matter, elections do have consequences.

The American landscape is changing and policy decisions should reflect this inevitable transformation.  A prime example of legislation that had its ups and downs and now may have a chance in passage is the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors).   This bi-partisan legislative proposal was first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001 by Senators Dick Durbin (D, IL) and Orrin Hatch (R, UT).

This bill would have provided conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period. Within the six-year period, they may qualify for permanent residency if they have “acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in the United States” or have “served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge.”  A Senate filibuster, driven by Republican Senators, killed the measure.

In 2010, the 111th Congress started to consider a new version of the DREAM Act that included a number of revisions to address concerns that were raised regarding the earlier version of the proposed bill.  They included:

  1. It did not repeal the ban on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. In the new version, states would not be forced to charge in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants. In addition, the new bill did not allow illegal immigrants to gain access to Federal Pell Grants and other financial aid.
  2. It lowered the age cap for eligibility from 35 to 29 years of age on the date of enactment. Additionally, to be eligible, individuals still must have come to the US as children (15 or under), graduated from a U.S. High School (or received a GED from a US institution), and be long-term residents (at least five years). An earlier version of the DREAM Act that was authored by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (R, UT) and cosponsored by Senator John McCain (R, AR) and presented during the 108th Congress, did not include any age cap.
  3. It did not grant resident status to anyone for at least two years. Previous versions of the DREAM Act would have immediately granted resident status to individuals who met the requirements.
  4. It further limited eligibility by specifically excluding anyone who had done the following:
    1. Had committed one felony or three misdemeanors;
    2. Was likely to become a public charge;
    3. Had engaged in voter fraud or unlawful voting;
    4. Had committed marriage fraud;
    5. Had abused a student visa;
    6. Had engaged in persecution; or
    7. Posed a public health risk.
  5. It gave undocumented individuals the chance to earn resident status only after two years and only if he met the DREAM Act’s college or military service requirements, and other requirements, such as paying back taxes and demonstrating the ability to read, write, and speak English, as well as demonstrating a civic knowledge of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States.
  6. It further limited “chain migration”.   In other words, people that would be eligible for conditional permanent residency would be limited in their ability to sponsor family members for U.S. citizenship. They could never sponsor extended family members and could not begin sponsoring parents or siblings for at least 12 years. Parents and siblings who entered the U.S. illegally would have to leave the country for ten years before they could gain resident status.  And remember that the visa backlog for siblings is decades long.
  7. It also specifically excluded DREAM Act individuals from having access to health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, also lovingly called Obamacare.  These individuals also would also be ineligible for Medicaid, food stamps and other entitlement programs.
  8. It established a one-year application deadline, requiring individuals to apply for conditional nonimmigrant status within one year of obtaining a high school degree or GED, being admitted to college, or the bill’s date of enactment.
  9. It also placed the burden of proof on a DREAM Act applicant, requiring he or she to demonstrate eligibility for the DREAM Act by being required to provide mountains of documents proving eligibility.

Even with all these changes that were made in order to persuade Republican Senators to vote for the bill, on September 21, 2010, the Republican led Senate filibuster killed the bill.  On the following day, Senator Durbin (D, IL) introduced the bill once again along with Senator Richard Lugar (R, IN) but with only two senators co-sponsoring the bill and it was defeated again.  On November 16, 2010, President Obama and top Democrats re-introduced the bill on November 29 on the floor of the House of Representatives and passed on December 8, 2010.   It failed again on the Senate floor due to a Republican-led Senate filibuster.

It was evident to numerous states that the DREAM Act was not happening at the federal level, so several states passed their version of the legislation.  As of November 2012, 11 states have their own versions of the DREAM Act. This includes the following:  Texas, California, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Wisconsin and Maryland.  Maryland is the only state that approved the DREAM Act by state ballot, winning 59% of the vote on November 6th, 2012.

On June 15, 2012, the Obama Administration, through an executive order, bypassing the Congress, put into place, a program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.  This gave undocumented young people, who were brought into the US by their parents, temporary visas, good for two years. On August 15, 2012, the same day that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) started accepting applications for this program, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order preventing the state of Arizona from issuing driver’s licenses and public benefits to young undocumented immigrants who receive deferred status and work authorization under the new program.

According to the Center of American Progress, in just the first two months, USCIS received and accepted for processing 179,794 deferred-action requests, or about 19% percent of the 950,000 individuals that are immediately eligible. This early high rate of participation is crucial because it send a positive signal that other eligible people should apply. Over 158,000 appointments have been made for biometric interviews and as of October 10, 2012 no applicants have received rejection letters. These are the kind of positive results that will make other eligible participants, who may otherwise be apprehensive to register with the government, encouragement to apply for deferred action.

November 6th, 2012 has come and gone.  Over 120 million Americans voted in this election, with minority groups coming out in full force. And on November 6th, 2012, President Barack Obama won re-election by putting together an electorate that represents the new American landscape.  While only receiving 39% of the White vote, President Obama received 95% of the Black vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote and 73% of the Asian and Pacific Islander vote.

So if you think that your vote does not matter, just consider the following:  Senator Schumer (D, NY) and Senator Graham (R, SC) are currently proposing comprehensive changes to the immigration laws that would include a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States; Fox News’ Sean Hannity announced that his position on undocumented immigrants had “evolved” and that he now supports a pathway to citizenship; Arizona Governor Brewer is now “willing” to move forward with immigration reform and pursue a secure border “at the same time;” Senate Democrats are planning to quickly revisit immigration reform in 2013 after President Barack Obama’s inauguration , according to several Democratic sources.

So when you say that your vote does not matter, just remember that elections do have consequences.

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”  – Abraham Lincoln