Fairfield University professor Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J. calls Dream Act 'a flawed dream that came too late'



Image: Rick RyscavageRev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., director of Fairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life and an expert on immigration, calls the DREAM Act "a poorly crafted piece of legislation" with many flaws, and he can speak as to why it might fail.

The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, offers a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children. CNN reported that Senate Democrats conceded Thursday they don't have the votes to pass the DREAM Act. President Obama has placed immigration as high on his list of issues in need of reform.

Ryscavage, who was executive director of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Office for Migration and Refugee Services and head of the Jesuit Refugee Service USA, helps to oversee "Immigrant Student National Position Paper," an initiative recently launched by the Center for Faith and Public Life, studying the problems of undocumented students in Jesuit colleges and universities.

Ryscavage offers his views on this important legislation:

"I will not at all be surprised that the DREAM Act - giving undocumented young people a possible path to citizenship - will be defeated in the Senate," Ryscavage said. "The Dream Act seeks to confer legal status on undocumented persons brought here by their parents before 2006. They would be given legal status after completing two years of college or enlisting in the military."

"It is a poorly crafted piece of legislation that left too many legitimate questions unanswered," he continued. "These questions could have been clarified and addressed had the Democrats introduced the bill over the past two years where it could have proceeded in normal fashion with hearings and witnesses as well as some amendments. Instead the Democratic leadership waited until the 11th hour of an expiring Congress to introduce the bill not subject to amendments and with no hearing during the 'lame duck' session."

"There is a serious problem in America with young people who, through no fault of their own, were brought here by their parents illegally," Ryscavage noted. "Many of these youths came in the 1990s and are now reaching the age of post secondary education or possible military service. We have as a country a moral obligation to help this talented, English speaking, highly integrated population, especially those who came here before becoming teenagers."

"The U.S. Congress could find a bipartisan way to address their plight but it would require a much more narrowly focused piece of legislation with clear spending caps and fraud detection mechanisms," he reasoned. Ryscavage said after the last major legalization effort in l986 by the Reagan Administration, there was a huge amount of fraud, especially in the agricultural workers sector. The Dream Act, as it is currently written, does not systematically address the problem of fraud and what to do about it, he pointed out.

"The eligibility age should probably be lowered from 16 to seven years of age ensuring that those who benefit from the change in law will have truly integrated into American life," Ryscavage said. "The legislators would also have to eliminate a loophole through which the conditions attached to the change in status could be waived by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for the undefined reason of 'hardship.' For political reasons the 'hardship' waiver could be extended to thousands of undocumented people who do not meet the conditions of the original bill."

"If the Bill were re-crafted in a way that deals with these basic problems, it might find the necessary votes in the Senate," Ryscavage commented. "The House, however, now passes to a Republican majority who probably will oppose any immigration legalization legislation over the next two years. But working carefully with some Republicans, an appropriate bipartisan piece of legislation could be ready for consideration after the 2012 Presidential election. One thing is certain: the issue of undocumented young people is not going away."

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 9, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 145