During the close of the 111th Congress, I had the opportunity to preside over the House as we debated the DREAM Act. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the House, but failed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Despite previous bipartisan majorities in both houses, the measure failed as debate devolved into Potemkin threats against our national security and cries of "amnesty.""¢Unfortunately, this is the state of the immigration debate in the United States.
A bill that simply would allow children, brought to this country by their parents years ago, to work toward a legalized status if they graduate from high school and join the military or enroll in college, fails. It fails not because it is bad public policy, but because too often bipartisanship and cooperation in Washington are perceived as weakness."¢For Cincinnatians, the DREAM Act has a face "” Bernard Pastor. Pastor, brought to the U.S. at 3, has grown to be a model resident, if not a citizen. The 2010 Reading High graduate loves the U.S. and knows little of his native country, Guatemala. He intends to be a preacher, like his father, and is deeply religious.
On the evening of Nov. 17, 2010, everything changed. Arrested for a minor traffic violation, Pastor was ruled to be in the country illegally, and he was quickly sent to a detention facility with an imminent threat of deportation. Due to a tremendous outpouring from the community, Pastor's deportation was suspended, and he has been given a temporary reprieve. But for the dramatic intervention of the community, Pastor would have been deported.
The policy question is this: Is it in the best interest of the United States to deport Pastor and others in similar predicaments? For me, the answer is a clear "No." "¢I believe reasonable, bipartisan immigration reform is achievable if policy-makers are willing to focus on those things that are in the best interest of the country and have the courage to choose progress over stalemate.
Securing the borders through increased enforcement is a common-sense first step. It should focus on those elements that present clear national security threats (e.g. terrorism, drugs, criminal activity). Strict law enforcement should also apply to those employers who knowingly skirt federal laws and regulations in order to exploit cheap immigrant labor.
A second step would be to acknowledge that attempting to deport 11 million illegal immigrants would be both impractical and economically devastating. It makes far more sense to determine a reasonable number of work visas, designate the status of most undocumented workers as "guest workers" and require them to pay into the system.
In doing so, we address the concerns of overburdened educational and social service providers, while allowing these workers to come out of the shadows. This is not citizenship, but a legalized status allowing individuals to live and work in the United States and requiring them to pay necessary taxes and penalties associated with their residency.
Pastor's parents, like millions before them, came to America to escape political persecution and pursue a better life. They deserve an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work for their dreams.
Steve Driehaus was U.S. Representative for Ohio's 1st congressional district from 2009-11.