Although Indian-Americans take an active interest in immigration issues, the DREAM Act did not stir the same emotions among Indian-Americans as among other groups. Why?
For those who didn’t follow the spirited debate in the second half of 2010, the DREAM Act would have allowed individuals in the country illegally today to legalize their status and eventually gain a green card if they came here as children and (in the past or future) completed high school, attended college or served in the U.S. military.
The primary argument in favor of the DREAM Act is that children living in the United States illegally because of their parents should not face punishment for the sins of their fathers. Opponents argued the bill amounted to “amnesty” and that Democrats were pushing the bill for political purposes.
In the end, in December 2010, the bill failed to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate. In a mostly party line vote, only three Republicans voted in favor of the bill and only 5 Democrats opposed the legislation. We don’t know the fate of the DREAM Act in this Congressional session, although House Republicans are unlikely to move it forward in its most recent reform.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, a California Republican, and the chair of the House Immigration Policy and Enforcement, wrote in a letter to the New York Times (February 25, 2011), “I am sympathetic to illegal immigrant children like Isabel Castillo who were brought here by their parents. Because their parents disregarded America’s immigration laws, they are in a difficult position. But by granting citizenship, the United States would actually reward their illegal immigrant parents, who knowingly violated our laws. It would perpetuate the problem the bill claims to solve . . . Once they become citizens, illegal immigrants could petition for their parents to be legalized; the parents could then bring in others in an endless chain.”
Immigration attorney Greg Siskind responded on his blog (December 9, 2010) to this often-made argument: “ One of the bigger myths floating around regarding DREAM is that it will lead to chain migration. The thought is that DREAMers will get citizenship and then quickly sponsor their parents for green cards. Not quite. DREAM Act recipients must wait ten years in a non-immigrant conditional status to apply for a green card. The adjustment of status will probably take a year or so to get and then a person must wait three more years for citizenship (which could take a year to get). So we’re talking about 15 years to citizenship in all likelihood. Then they FILE for green cards for their parents. But because the parents are very likely subject to reentry bars, they’ll then have to exit the country and wait TEN years before they are allowed to step foot in the U.S. with permanent residency.”
During the House floor debate on the DREAM Act, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) estimated “it will be 25 years before any person whose status is adjusted under this legislation will be able to petition for the parent that brought that kid here . . . The chain migration argument is another bogus argument, just like the amnesty argument.”
A July 2010 Migration Policy Institute study estimated that 10 percent of the 2.1 million potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act came from Asia. And according to a February 2011 Department of Homeland Security report, approximately 200,000 illegal immigrants from India were residing in the U.S as of January 2010.
However, no reliable data are available on how many potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are from India. It’s possible there are more Indians in the United States eligible to legalize their status under the DREAM Act than we realize. But until they step forward we may never know.