By Shankar Vedantam
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 6:19 PM
Republican lawmakers on Tuesday stalled a Senate measure to allow children of undocumented immigrants to get on a path to citizenship, and accused the Obama administration of seeking amnesty for illegal immigrants through administrative changes within the Department of Homeland Security.
The so-called Dream Act to grant permanent residency to immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and who have completed some time in college or in the armed forces has been a sought-after goal for Democrats, who attached the measure to an important defense spending bill. Republicans used a procedural vote to block the bill. Immigration advocates accused Republicans of sacrificing the well-being of thousands of young people to cater to nativist sentiment.
Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the vote showed that the Republican party had "once again proven that when Latinos need support, they support a different constituency even when the constituency they are supporting does not have a dog in the fight. If my kids are legal and they are going to college, why would I want to stick it to my neighbor's kids?"
Senate Democrats vowed to reintroduce the Dream Act, but odds of the measure becoming law this year are slim to non-existent.
In a day of fast-moving action, Republicans released a draft of a memo they said was composed by Department of Homeland Security staff to explore ways to create a more lenient immigration system, with expedited approvals for visas and family reunification, and measures to head off deportations of undocumented immigrants.
"Done right, a combination of benefit and enforcement-related measures could provide the Administration with a clear-cut political win," the draft memo, dated Feb. 26, 2010, read. The draft, released by Republican senators to the media, did not list an an author. A Republican congressional staff member who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter said the final memo was sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"We would need to give the legislative process enough time to play out to deflect against charges of usurping Congressional authority," the 10-page memo said. Referring to the hopes for passing comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), it added, "announcement of such measures would have to wait until it was evident that no legislative action on CIR was possible by the current Congress. This is likely to mean the best time for administrative action will be late summer or fall -- when the midterm election season is in full swing."
The idea that the department was seeking to administratively accomplish what Democratic lawmakers had failed to deliver legislatively was ludicrous, said Matt Chandler, a DHS spokesman.
"As we have said repeatedly, DHS will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation's illegal immigrant population," he said in an e-mail, as he explained that the agency welcomed policy proposals from staff, but rejected bad ideas. Already, he added, immigration authorities' "record-breaking enforcement statistics speak for themselves - removing more aliens in 2009 than in any prior year in the agency's history and already surpassing records for criminal alien removals in 2010 - and demonstrate that we are doing more than ever before to enforce U.S. immigration laws. To be clear, we are not engaged in a 'backdoor' amnesty and are on pace to place more people in immigration proceedings this year than ever before."