What's Next After Death Of The DREAM Act

Guests

Roy Beck, founder and CEO of NumbersUSA
Flavia De La Fuente, editor, Dreamactivist.org

The bill would have opened a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants. It was defeated after five Democrats joined a majority of Republicans to block it. Advocates for and opponents of the DREAM act talk about what happens next.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This past weekend, the DREAM Act fell five votes short of the 60 needed to move it forward and effectively died in the U.S. Senate. The Development, Relief and Education Act for Alien Minors has bounced around Capitol Hill for nearly a decade now. It would provide a path to citizenship for anyone brought illegally to the U.S. as a child if they lived here for more than five years, stayed out of trouble and attended college or served in the military.

In a moment, advocates on both sides of the DREAM debate join us to talk about where their campaigns go from here. We want to hear from you. What comes next? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Roy Beck is founder and CEO of NumbersUSA, which advocates for a reduction in illegal immigration and joins us here in studio 3A. Thanks for having the time today.

Mr. ROY BECK (CEO, NumbersUSA): Good afternoon.

CONAN: How important was the vote on Saturday?

Mr. BECK: Well, it's huge. I think it ended a 10-year era. For 10 years, the main immigration debate in Washington is: What can we do for the people who are in this country illegally? Now that, I believe, Saturday, was the last amnesty vote and the last serious attempt at an amnesty for some years to come because of the change of composition in Congress. So I think, you know, as far as we're concerned, we go on offense after being 10 years on defense.

CONAN: The change in Congress, obviously the new Congress...

Mr. BECK: Yes, that was elected in November.

CONAN: ...they will be - we assume, given the numbers - less receptive to passing the law.

Mr. BECK: Fifty-three of the votes in the House that narrowly passed the DREAM Act the week before are not coming back. And our understanding of those 53 people who are replacing them is that they're nearly all pro-enforcement, anti-amnesty people. That's a big change.

CONAN: And when you call it amnesty, these are people who are brought into the country. They didn't do it. Their parents brought them in for the most part and have lived here their whole lives.

Mr. BECK: Yes. You know, there's no question that there are many compelling cases in here. And certainly, the people who have been brought forth to push the act were brought here as three months old and are valedictorians and all that. I think they are compelling cases. This act was though way too broad, way too many loopholes. But the most important thing is it didn't deal with the cause of the problem. Why were these kids able to grow up here illegally? Why were they able to spend 15, 20 years here illegally? And the reason is their parents were allowed to illegally hold jobs all that time.

That's why, in this next Congress, the attention is going to be on how do you keep parents from bringing their kids here and holding jobs, getting jobs illegally? How do you take those jobs away from them?

CONAN: So an enforcement approach, you expect, will be the focus of the new Congress.

Mr. BECK: Absolutely. That is going to be a huge thing in this next year, and it's going to be a big change.

CONAN: Some will say that, in fact, the Obama administration has had a more stringent enforcement approach than its predecessor.

Mr. BECK: In some ways. In some ways it has, in some ways not. But you got to remember, George Bush was a pusher of amnesty himself. What they're talking about, deportations, which is about 2 percent of the illegal aliens. But the way you move illegal aliens out of this country and the way you stop them from coming is to keep them from getting jobs.

And that's what we don't do. We don't have mandatory workplace verification. That's the bill that's going to be on the House floor, I think, fairly quickly. And that's the bill that's going to - we're going to see quite an interesting time in the Senate. It won't get through the Senate as easily. But I think if it gets through the Senate, I think the president would have to sign it.

CONAN: This would force employers to check Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration...

Mr. BECK: With the electronic system.

CONAN: And there have been a lot of problems with that electronic system.

Mr. BECK: No. There actually - I mean, there's never been a single person who's been fired wrongly because of that. The problem with the system is that it's still not weeding out a lot of identity fraud. But the point is, is that it gets - it will stop most illegal aliens from being able to hold their jobs. And there are, actually, remedies to deal with the identity theft as well.

CONAN: Roy Beck is the founder and CEO of NumbersUSA. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Bill's on the line, calling from San Francisco.

BILL (Caller): Yeah. Hi. I'm a previous or maybe even a current member of Numbers, and I appreciate a lot of the work that Mr. Beck does. However - and I'm also against illegal immigration, in principle. But I think that he's wrong not to support the DREAM Act. And I'll even say I think some people really need a chance to have their education here and serve in our armed forces, and I'm really upset that he can't support the DREAM Act. But I would still support his other actions against illegal immigration and also to put the employment verification more in place.

I had - one of my - my former wife, who I brought into the country, and we went through all the correct procedures and it was a real hassle, but we did it and I know what it means to do that. So I just don't understand why he can't support the DREAM Act, the effect of the DREAM Act to get these young people legalized.

CONAN: Mr. Beck?

Mr. BECK: Well, it's a very interesting comment. I think many of our members are very sympathetic to these students. And if the main thing is we've learned in '86, you don't give amnesties before you get the enforcement. I think these kids we'll get their chance. Remember, there already is amnesty. The Obama administration has already given these students - these DREAM Act students a president's amnesty. That is -they've already said they will not deport any of them. They are not deporting any of them. They have a president's amnesty. The DREAM Act would have give them a jobs and benefits' amnesty. And that's - in other words, they still can't get a job legally. They still can't get public benefits.

CONAN: Correct.

Mr. BECK: But they can stay legally. They are not going to get deported.

BILL: Right. But Mr. Beck, can I mention one other thing? Because I also don't like the fact that we're giving out these H1B visas to people who have not been educated here. And I know a lot of your supporters are trying to get, you know, these big corporations are trying to get more of H1B visas for people...

CONAN: These are work visas to bring in people who are thought to be vital to the economy.

BILL: Right. Those people are going to compete against these students. They really need to be here, the DREAM Act students. It's not right.

CONAN: All right. Thank you very much for the comment, Bill. Mr. Beck, if this had been limited to military service, would you have supported it?

Mr. BECK: No, because it has to start with enforcement. You have to take away the jobs magnet before you start giving out amnesties. And that's -that was the big mistake in this. I mean, remember even comprehensive immigration form, which is for almost all illegal aliens, had a lot of enforcement in it. This DREAM Act had no enforcement in it. And that's what kind of sealed the deal. I think they might have been able to pull off - they could have pulled off five Republicans, of more Republicans. Or they might've even pulled up, you know, five Democrats voted against it.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BECK: If they had really tackled this jobs problem - but here's the thing, we have 22 million Americans want a full time job, don't have one. They have compelling cases too. We can't be encouraging future illegal immigration of more foreign workers.

CONAN: Roy Beck, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. BECK: Thank you.

CONAN: Roy Beck, founder and CEO of NumbersUSA, kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

Now with us from the studios of KUT, our member station in Austin, Texas, Flavia De La Fuente, editor of Dreamactivist.org, a social media hub for the student movement that pushed to pass the DREAM Act, also a recent graduate of UCLA. And thank you very much for being with us today.

Ms. FLAVIA DE LA FUENTE (Editor, Dreamactivist.org): Hi Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: And for those who were lobbying so hard in favor of the DREAM Act, where do you go now?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: Well, I think our path is pretty clear. We can't turn back at this point. I mean, the movement we've built over the past couple of years is a force now. I think without it, there wouldn't have even been a vote on the DREAM Act. And within the past 72 hours, I've been getting calls and emails from people who are asking about next steps, proposing next steps. And it looks like we'll be taking the fight for immigrant rights to the states and we'll be looking at a localized strategy. Obviously, we can't fight for a path to citizenship on the state level, but we can fight for access to education, access to public universities, in-state tuition, driver's licenses. So those are the discussions that have been circulating right now.

CONAN: Would you agree with Roy Beck's political calculation, the next Congress will be less receptive than a current one?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: That's probably true. Although, we found the current one to be a very difficult environment as it stands. So yeah, at the federal level, it will be very difficult. But we expect more leadership than was previously exhibited this time around.

CONAN: What do you mean more leadership?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: I guess, I refer to the fact that, you know, a lot -we've been getting a lot of emails lately from a lot of Democratic establishments saying, you know, that the responsibility for the failure of the DREAM Act lies with Republicans. And right now, you know, on the Twitterverse where a lot of us have been talking over the past 48 hours, there's a lot of people who are really upset about the fact that five Democrats broke ranks. And one Democrat was at a Christmas party during the vote. So there is a incredible amount of disappointment in our Democratic leadership that claims to advocate for us as well.

CONAN: And that's the senator from West Virginia, Mr. Manchin. And so, you're holding both parties accountable. Will you be maintaining the kind of - will you be able to maintain the kind of energy over the next couple of years to - next time elections roll around to say, we remember what happened in 2010?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: I think it's going to be very hard to forget. This has not been a very easy year. Immigrant youths have been putting their lives literally on the line, starting in May, when five immigrant youths did a sit-in at Senator McCain's Tucson office and have risked deportation.

From that point forward, we've had dozens of students literally put their lives on the line, and not only theirs but that of their families and that of their communities to bring attention to this bill.

So at this point, you know, we have, I would say, hundreds of immigrant students, immigrant youths who have, you know, publicly come out, stated their names, stated their intentions, said that they are Americans, that they want to serve this country, work for this country, and their advocacy at this point, you know, must continue onward.

They're - everything is all out in the open. There's nothing to fear. There's nothing to hide from anymore, and I think you'll be seeing a lot more of that in the next couple of years.

CONAN: And you talk about activism at the state level, yet we also know there are any number of states, for example, looking to emulate the Arizona law, the very controversial law that's being reviewed now by the courts. But, nevertheless, the law would require law officers - state law officers to inquire as to somebody's immigration status.

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: Yeah. That's absolutely true, we know. There's a huge dichotomy between what the national sentiment is - I mean, for example, 70 percent of the American public supported the DREAM Act, you know, that didn't exactly translate and it doesn't translate at the state level either. We're looking at some really visceral legislation. Here in Texas, we're gearing up for similar legislation, SB 1070.

A whole slough of bill is being presented on the state legislature, and like I said, all the people that I've been working with - that we, DREAM activists, have been working with are already having conversations about how we are going to oppose this legislation.

And I think what's really critical to note is that at this point, immigrant youth activists will be relying mostly on themselves. I think there's a real disenfranchisement with major immigrant rights organizations that live on the Beltway with Democratic leadership. And at this point, we're all very proud of the fact that immigrant youths are ones who are speaking for themselves, advocating for themselves. And we hope to continue that pattern in the future.

CONAN: Flavia De La Fuente, editor of Dreamactivist.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Ann(ph) on the line, Ann with us from San Jose.

ANN (Caller): Yeah. I was going to say that I think the proponents made a big mistake not, you know, they want to try to combine the financial aid with the issue of citizenship. The current - the Senate bill in section 11 said basically that this group would be eligible for a work study - federal work study slots.

I can tell you as an extremely needy student who couldn't go to get a teaching credential because I couldn't afford it, work study is a zero-sum game. If this group gets them they're competing with a lot of very, very poor Americans. They should make it impossible - you know, it's one thing to give them citizenship, I think there may be some sympathy for that, but there should at least - because that's an award in itself.

But there should at least be, you know, impossible for this group to get any kind of state grant-type aid, which is also apparently an open option in the version they had and no work study slots.

Those are a very coveted, limited resource that many poor Americans can't get. And this group, if they're going to get citizenship, they should have to finance their education with loans only. All the other poor Americans out there that will, you know, be living with a mountain of debt, you know, they're going to be in that situation too. But that's better than giving them something that, you know, is taking...

CONAN: Ann...

ANN: ...away from a lot of needy Americans.

CONAN: It's not giving citizenship - there's long path to citizenship. But anyway, on the financial aid question, I wonder, Flavia De La Fuente, how do you respond to that?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: Yeah. I would say that, you know, this is an extremely long path to citizenship. And the House bill that was passed and the one that was brought to the Senate, it's actually 10 years of non-immigrant status, which is this weird, in between not-resident status, you know? They only - they wouldn't have even qualified for health care - for nothing, really, beyond this program.

It's interesting that you say that you're from San Jose, California, because in California, immigrant youths who attend university actually pay full tuition, full in-state tuition, but have no access to financial aid. In California, when you pay tuition, a third of that goes into a pot and is then redistributed. They actually never see any of that money that goes into the pot. So really, at this point, students in California systems are benefitting from financial aid that's being contributed by undocumented youth.

So there's lots of inequalities within the system. But if you were to deny the work-study program to people who are on a path to citizenship, then I guess you're essentially creating a second-class citizen.

CONAN: Ann, thanks very much for the call. Finally, Flavia De La Fuente, this had to have been a great disappointment. Your movement came out over the past couple of years and developed and really thought this was the great opportunity, this Congress, this year, this time. How disappointing is this?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: It's a pretty serious blow. And I think over the past 72 hours, people have been going through various stages. But there's also been an understanding that one vote doesn't define who you are as a person, doesn't make you less of a human being. And I think that's the general sentiment being expressed right now by a lot of friends of mine that, yes, it happened. We'll have to move forward. We'll have to move onward. I'm still a human being. I still have rights in this country. And we're still going to be fighting for all of our communities. So it's - it has been difficult, but I think what doesn't kill us will make us a lot stronger. And one day we'll win.

CONAN: Just a few seconds left, but a lot of these activists will be graduating from school soon. You can't get a job legally, what are you going to do?

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: A lot of students keep going to school. There's a lot of students who have multiple graduate degrees. They're now attending law school. And so they'll be trying to extend their time in school until a path to citizenship becomes available. And then, gosh darnit, we're going to have the most incredibly qualified people in the world eligible for the DREAM Act. So a lot of people will turn to that. Some will turn to further activism because there's no other way around it. So, yeah, it's a difficult path.

CONAN: Thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Ms. DE LA FUENTE: Thank you.

CONAN: Flavia De La Fuente is editor of Dreamactivist.org. She joined us from the studios of member station KUT in Austin, Texas.

Tomorrow, what the Internet is doing to the way we read. We'll talk about eBooks, digital content and the future of the printed word. Join us for that.

This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

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