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CEPEDA: Why DREAM is still a nightmare

Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

CHICAGO -- In December 2010, after the DREAM Act fell five votes short of passage in the Senate, it was understood that the issue would be dead for a while, and that Hispanics would go to the polls in 2012 and punish those who voted against the legislation.

I noted at the time that while politics and heated anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric were two main culprits, the failure of the law -- which would have created a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants -- was, above all else, the fault of a terrible economic situation in which no extra competition for limited jobs was welcome.

Today Democrats are on the defensive as Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican seen by some in the GOP as a magnet for Hispanic voters, leads a push to introduce a modified version of the DREAM Act that would allow temporary legal residency status but no path to citizenship.

Though it has been reported that some immigrant activist organizations are talking with Rubio and this has inspired counter-lobbying from the White House, administration officials needn't get too upset.

In fact, neither should the far right of the Republican Party, which has begun hyperventilating at the thought of any type of an "amnesty" scheme.

The reason is painfully simple: The jobs situation is no better than when the DREAM Act failed.

According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, today's 16- to 19-year-olds face the same 25 percent unemployment rate as in December 2010. The unemployment rate for those 20-24 has improved only slightly: 15 percent in 2010 compared to 13 percent now.

Workers over 25 with only a high school diploma face an 8 percent unemployment rate -- about 2 percentage points better than in December 2010. It's much worse for recent graduates. The Associated Press has some stomach-churning figures based on 2011 Current Population Survey data. They show that 54 percent of those with a bachelor's degree under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed last year -- the highest share in at least 11 years.

This presents a huge obstacle for those legislators who truly believe in the need to offer relief to illegal immigrant youth who have spent most of their lives in this country. How will they sell voters on the possibility of bringing an estimated 1.2 million DREAM Act-eligible young people into direct competition with U.S.-born citizens and legal immigrants for jobs and college assistance funds?

Take it a step further and consider the pickle facing calculating politicians who embrace a no-citizenship DREAM Act simply because they'll do anything to win a few votes by making Hispanics feel like they are on "their side." Endorsing any plan allowing illegal immigrants to be able to work legally comes with the risk of eventually having to acknowledge that throughout the economic downturn, the unemployment rate among Hispanics has consistently been higher than that of the population as a whole. Thus, more demand for limited jobs could disproportionately hurt Latinos.

Though I think Rubio's idea could be a decent compromise, it might face limited support from Hispanic voters who resent an election-year ploy that doesn't offer a path to full participation in our democracy to their youngest and most assimilated family members. So far, reaction has been tepid.

Back in 2010, immigrant advocacy groups touted a Congressional Budget Office report that claimed the House version of the DREAM Act would actually reduce deficits by about $2.2 billion over the 2011-20 period through a combination of revenue increases and lower spending.

No such data about how a so-called Republican DREAM Act would impact the economy exist today. But if the Republicans want to get their base and others on board, they'd better run those numbers. If it's true that illegal immigrant youths are the key to long-term economic growth, it'll take some heavy lifting to convince an electorate suffering through the weakest recovery on record that any legalization program will eventually break in their favor.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Comments

JV 1 year, 11 months ago

"While it comes in multiple versions, the DREAM Act amnesty is constantly described as being “for teenaged students.” Complete bunk. The amnesty applies mostly to adults up to age 35 and would be the largest addition to Democrat voting rolls since ... well, since the “one-time” amnesty of 1986."

D.A. King, Gwinnett Daily Post, November 28, 2010

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news2me 1 year, 11 months ago

More of the same. For once, I would like to see statistics on what Illegal Aliens are doing THEMSELVES to become legal citizens of this country. Most have had plently of time to take the right steps on the path to become a legal citizens. The problem facing ALL ILLEGAL aliens is that Americans are quickly tiring of the entitlement attitude of the DREAM act. The Dream Act is just that - A DREAM. Protesting and whining about the not being handed amnesty on a silver platter is THE problem for illegals. Waiting for something to happen and not taking actions to do what is proper and legal is what is killing the DREAM.

The AZ law is being scrutinized by the Supreme Court now. As soon as the decision is made (which ilIllegals won't be happy about), watch for many more states to enact laws to protect our country from invaders that don't belong to be here.

As activists and so called journalists like Cepeda continue to whine ad naseum, more and more Americans and legal immigrants are waking up and becoming outraged. The path to LEGAL citizenship is not an entitlement. Hard work and following the rules and laws of our country is the only way to obtain the DREAM.

ILLEGALS are running out of excuses and legal AMERICAN CITIZENS are running out of sympathy. It it time to put up or shut up and go HOME!

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notblind 1 year, 11 months ago

Federal government encouragement of illegal immigration and the hijacking of the 14th Amendment by said illegals is transforming America in ways that MOST Americans are deeply unhappy about. We spend huge sums of money dealing with people that have no legal or moral right to even be inside our borders. These people being here have decimated the job opportunities for most young Americans.

Our present economic situation is partly the result of the burden that illegal aliens has placed on the taxpayers of the US. There is also the aspect of the billions of dollars that these people sucked out of our economy and sent to their home countries. There can be no argument that the standard of living of most Americans is being dragged ever downward. The lack of growth in household income for the past decades is a direct result from the corporate world being able to employ cheap foreign labor while at the same time the household finds itself taxed more .

Then there is the transformation of our political landscape caused by the divided loyalties far too many hispanic citizens display. As Ms. Cepeda so blatantly states, these voters want amnesty no matter how much it imperils our future standard of living.

Ms. Cepeda, I think you and your ilk have finally overstepped and awakened the masses.

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