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KIDS Act Alone Won't Fix Immigration System

The House Immigration Subcommittee changed its tone this week. Once opposed to providing a road to citizenship as part of immigration reform, the panel finally is entertaining the idea of offering lawful status to DREAMers.
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The House Immigration Subcommittee changed its tone this week. Once opposed to providing a road to citizenship as part of immigration reform, the panel finally is entertaining the idea of offering lawful status to DREAMers, young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children without documents.

Were the change in tone matched by a major shift in policy, we would be looking forward to negotiations on real, commonsense immigration reform that includes a road to citizenship for most of the 11 million aspiring citizens who still do not have papers.

Unfortunately, their rhetoric does not match conservatives' long record against DREAMers, and a hearing this week showed House leaders' tone deafness regarding DREAMers, their families, and the public's general demand for broad immigration reform.

It is important to acknowledge the effort by House leaders to broach the limited subject of DREAMers. Since 2001, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) has been at the forefront of the legislative efforts for the DREAM Act -- legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for youths in good standing who graduate from high school and meet other criteria. We have been working to find sensible immigration solutions for all immigrant families, and we know well how many of the House Immigration Subcommittee members have previously failed to consider pragmatic immigration reform proposals.

Two years ago, House leaders opposed the DREAM Act. Just last month, members of this subcommittee voted to resume the deportation of DREAMers who are eligible for temporarily relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

However, as the House now faces mounting public pressure to support immigration reform -- the Senate passed a bill that includes a road to citizenship -- House leaders are creating at least the perception that they are sensitive to the needs and promise of DREAMers.

Perhaps a nice gesture, but it will not work, and here's why.

First, the proposed legislative remedies for DREAMers are deficient. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte -- who voted against the DREAM Act -- are working on a weaker version called the "KIDS Act" that is not expected to create an expedited path to citizenship. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA, also has a bill that would offer citizenship only in exchange for military service.

Second, while the House leaders are just now trying to catch up to the DREAMers -- the politically empowered force that turned immigration into a legislative imperative -- DREAMers do not want special treatment. They seek a fair immigration system that treats all 11 million aspiring citizens with dignity, not one that only deals with DREAMers and leaves the rest behind.

"Such a solution would tell DREAMers like me that our hardworking parents are good enough to pick your crops, babysit your children, landscape your yard, and at the same time never be treated as equal members of this society," testified Rosa Velazquez, during the legislative hearing. She learned her values from her mother, Rosalinda, who worked for 10 years at an Arkansas poultry processing plant, cutting chicken tenders with scissors and placing them on the yellow trays for sale at grocery stores.

Pamela Rivera, another witness, saw her mother be returned to Colombia, leaving behind a husband and family. "She still considers herself American," Rivera said.

An immigration policy that would separate Velazquez from her mother or Rivera from hers, and lead to millions more family separations, is immoral.

Nor would a DREAMer-only bill fix all that is wrong with the current immigration system. The much needed reform must have at its core a pathway to legalization and citizenship for those contributing members of society who are here without documents.

We will continue to work hard for our families and look forward to more evolution from House leaders who must support a roadmap to citizenship and justice for all, not just some.