A promise fulfilled in Congress, but a dream deferred
Thanks to the intransigence of the Republican Senate minority, the 111 Congress winds up its work with a mixed record on human rights. A promise was fulfilled, but a dream was deferred.
The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a milestone in both American military history, and in the history of civil rights. After years of enforced subterfuge and deception, the repeal will allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve their country openly without fear of reprisal. Implementation of the law will fulfill a campaign promise made by President Barack Obama.
Despite the Democratic majority in the Senate, a vote on repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” avoided a filibuster only because six Republican senators voted with their Democratic colleagues to bring the bill to the floor. When the actual bill was voted on, two more Republicans came on board, adding to the bipartisan flavor of the bill, and ensuring its passage by a 65-31 margin.
But such comity is rare in the Senate today, as the fate of the DREAM Act demonstrates.
Obama had also promised to pass the DREAM Act, opening a road to citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country prior to age 15. If they finished high school or its equivalent, maintained a clean police record, and agreed to finish two years of college or a term in the military, they would be granted conditional status. On completing their education or service commitment, DREAM Act participants would qualify to begin the process to citizenship.
Many of these young immigrants were brought to the United States as infants and speak English as their primary tongue. Most remember no home but their adopted one.
So far, the DREAM Act has been in the Congress for 10 years. After the latest failure, and with little prospect of it passing in the Republican-controlled House within the next two years, the young people who would be impacted by passage of the DREAM Act are destined for a long wait before they gain the opportunity to come out of the darkness.
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Shortly before the Senate was to vote on the DREAM Act, supporters of the bill gathered before Sen, Michael Bennet’s Denver office to thank him and Rep. Jared Polis, who was a leader in the House fight for the act, for their dedication to immigrant rights.
“We are so close!” said one young man in the group, eagerly anticipating passage of the bill. “In the past nine years, we have seen two presidents, many congressional elections, and thousands of dreams put on hold.” Now, it seemed, doors might be opening.
But his hopes were dashed and his dreams put back on hold when Democrats could only muster 55 votes in favor of the DREAM Act, while 41 senators voted against it. The vote divided largely along party lines, with only three Republicans supporting it, and five Democrats voting against it. In any other democratic legislative body, the majority would have won, but under the arcane rules of the Senate, it failed for want of a 60 vote supermajority.
President Obama called the vote “incredibly disappointing,” and vowed to keep working for passage of the DREAM Act. Bennet also urged “the youth whose future depends on it and … all other supporters of this bill … not to give up.” He added, “It will take unshakeable commitment, but we will ultimately succeed.”
Other Democrats are proposing a more direct assault on the rules of the Senate that allow endless debate. Mark Udall has a plan “designed to protect the rights of Senators in the minority party, while also avoiding the kind of obstruction that has prevented members of Congress from doing the work they were sent here to do.”
Like the Democratic senators, the American public is fed up with Senate gridlock. Udall’s proposal for taking common-sense steps to prevent endless filibusters is a step in the right direction. When the new Senate convenes in January, reform of these outdated and over-used filibuster rules should be the first order of business.