Tuesday, September 05, 2017

From the Archives: What is the DREAM Act, and why is it important? A conversation with Claire Gastañaga

What is the DREAM Act, and why is it important? A conversation with Claire Gastañaga
September 5, 2010 9:05 PM MST

At Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s town hall meeting in Harrisonburg on August 26, one of the questions from the audience was posed by a young lady wearing an academic mortarboard.

DREAM Act DACA immigration Claire Gastanaga Rick Sincere
According to the Harrisonburg Times, the questioner was Isabel Castillo, a magna cum laude graduate of Eastern Mennonite University. Castillo identified herself as an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States as a 6-year-old child. She asked McDonnell whether he supports the DREAM Act; he said he does not.

The DREAM Act (an acronym of the title of the Senate version of the bill, S. 729, the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act”) would help regularize the immigration status of undocumented students.

The day after McDonnell’s town hall, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner spoke with Claire Gastañaga, a Richmond-based attorney and self-described “immigrant advocate,” who was attending the weekly Fridays After Five concert at the Charlottesville Pavilion.

‘Expedited path’
“What the DREAM Act does,” she explained, is to allow “an expedited path for children who were brought here by their parents, who made no decision on their own to come here, to regularize their status, to become legal by becoming full participants in our society and preparing themselves to make a meaningful contribution.”

The legislation, she said, “would allow somebody who had been to public schools in the United States, who had grown up here for a period of time, but who was technically not here with [legal] authority, to make commitments and make certain pledges and then be able to go to college and become fully functioning parts of our community and our society by becoming legal permanent residents and ultimately opening the door to citizenship.”

The proposed law would not create “reverse-chain migration” that would permit the affected students to serve as an anchor for other members of their families seeking to immigrate to the United States.

‘Live the American dream’
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Most of those for whom the law would apply “have been paying taxes because they’ve been in the community,” explained Gastañaga. “They have strong connections. Many of them came here when they were 2 or 3 years old. They speak English. They have no affinity for their prior country. They consider themselves Americans. What it does is allow them to actually become Americans and to live the American dream.”

Passage of the DREAM Act has been held up because both sides in the immigration debate – those who want stricter laws and those who want more liberalized laws – have deferred action on it in favor of the types of comprehensive immigration reform that they prefer.

‘Being held hostage’
The bill has been “caught up in this kind of all or nothing environment,” Gastañaga lamented. “It’s being held hostage because some people think it’s so attractive for bipartisan support that it’s somehow a carrot to bring people into the conversation who wouldn’t otherwise participate.”

Gastañaga thinks “that’s a mistake,” mentioning that the DREAM Act is falling between the cracks just like the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act (HR 1136) and a proposal for agricultural jobs.

Both sides are responsible for this delay, she said.

“The Hispanic Caucus won’t let anything go forward if it’s not comprehensive, and the folks on the other side won’t let anything go forward unless it includes their secure borders” features of comprehensive reform. “So everybody’s holding these things hostage,” she said.

Bipartisan support
Neither of Virginia’s senators (Jim Webb and Mark Warner) have cosponsored the DREAM Act. The House version of the bill (known as the American Dream Act, HR 1751) has only one cosponsor from Virginia, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA8). Both bills have bipartisan support.

GOP cosponsors in the House include Joseph Cao (R-LA2) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL18). Senate Republican cosponsors include Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Nicole Allan, writing for Atlantic.com, called the DREAM Act “An Immigration Measure Republicans Could Get Behind.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on September 3, 2010. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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