FAIR Legislative Update December 6, 2010
DREAM Act Battle Comes to a Head
As of Friday, both House and Senate leaders had announced that they intend to force votes on the DREAM Act as early as Tuesday of this week. This followed a week of uncertainty, as Democratic leaders scheduled and rescheduled votes on the DREAM Act in a frantic, last-ditch effort to pass the amnesty legislation. In the end, they only succeeded in postponing debate until this week.
In an unusual Saturday session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he intended to file cloture on the DREAM Act Monday night (tonight), and mid-week force a vote on whether to proceed with debate—a vote that requires 60 Senators to pass. (Politico, Dec. 4, 2010) Similarly, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the House would take up companion legislation, if not Friday, then sometime this week. (CQ Today, Dec. 2, 2010)
Sen. Reid has indicated he is committed to ending the legislative session by December 17, giving the Senate only two weeks to juggle a full schedule, including the possible extension of the Bush tax cuts, a FY 2011 funding bill for the federal government, and possible approval of the START arms treaty. (The Hill, Dec. 4, 2010) Yet, Reid has also scheduled votes on the DREAM Act, a health care bill for 9/11 rescue workers, a cost-of-living adjustment for seniors, and possibly the Defense Authorization Bill, which includes a repeal of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. (Id.)
How this all plays out remains to be seen. All 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Reid early last week, promising to filibuster any votes brought before the issues of tax cuts and government funding were settled. (Politico, Dec. 1, 2010) If they hold true to that promise, only a couple of issues on the crowded Senate calendar may move forward.
If the lame-duck session ends without the passage of amnesty legislation, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has vowed that he and other Hispanic leaders will stage a full-tilt campaign of “civil disobedience,” like the African-American civil-rights movement of the 1960s. (The Daily Beast, Dec. 1, 2010) During an interview with The Daily Beast published last week, Rep. Gutierrez promised there will be protests, marches, and sit-ins in an attempt to garner support for amnesty legislation. The movement will operate autonomously and will no longer be beholden to wavering Democrats, filibustering Republicans, or President Barack Obama. (Id.) Rep. Gutierrez, who heads the Immigration Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says that he is taking his cues on civil disobedience from the 1960s. “When black people in this country decided they were going to fight for civil rights and for voting rights, they didn’t ask if the majority leader was with them,” he said. (Id.)
This is not the first time Rep. Gutierrez has advocated for non-violent civil disobedience. In May, the Congressman was arrested for protesting outside the White House. (The Hill, May 1, 2010) Chanting “Si se peude,” (“Yes, we can”) the U.S. Congressman linked arms with a few dozen other protestors. When he did not comply with police requests to leave, he was arrested. (Id.)
Rep. Gutierrez hopes radical tactics like these will help persuade President Obama to use his executive powers to stop the deportation of illegal aliens. Gutierrez has not kept quiet about his disappointment with the Obama Administration’s actions during its first two years. “[The President] was clear in his commitment to me,” says Gutierrez. And yet “everything has been enforcement, enforcement, enforcement”—more deportations of undocumented immigrants, more troops on the border. “How,” asks Gutierrez, “is this different from what George W. Bush did?” (Newsweek, Nov. 29, 2010) “I have only one loyalty,” he says, “and that’s to the immigrant community.” (Id.)
Last week Congress passed the Help Haiti Act of 2010 (H.R. 5283), legislation aimed at granting legal permanent resident (LPR) status to certain Haitian orphans following Haiti’s devastating earthquake last January. Specifically, the Act applies to unmarried Haitian minors under the age of 18 who are physically present in the U.S. and who were granted humanitarian parole by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano between Jan. 18, 2010 and Apr. 15, 2010. The Act prohibits the biological parents of the minors from receiving any immigration benefits under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and caps the number of orphans who benefit from the Act to 1,400.
At the time of the earthquake, news outlets gave significant attention to the plight of Haitian orphans. Three days later, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano granted humanitarian parole to Haitian children orphaned due to the disaster. (DHS Press Release, Jan. 18, 2010) In granting the humanitarian parole, Secretary Napolitano remarked, “While we remain focused on family reunification in Haiti, authorizing the use of humanitarian parole for orphans who are eligible for adoption in the United States will allow them to receive the care they need here.” (Id.) Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), one of the original co-sponsors of the Help Haiti Act in the Senate, shared Napolitano’s sentiment, “It is imperative that we provide much needed relief to the orphaned children of Haiti and their new adoptive families in the United States.” (Sen. Inhofe Press Release, Aug. 5, 2010)
House Democrats were rumored to have been considering adding the DREAM Act as an amendment to the Help Haiti Act; however, the legislation was ultimately passed free of unrelated measures. “This is about Haitian orphans and their adoptive American families and to leverage that bill for a highly controversial immigration measure was just wrong