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The DREAM Act & Childhood Immigration

While laws concerning immigrants have always been debated in the United States, the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the Mexico-U.S. border has turned the issue from a legal conundrum to, as Barack Obama put it, an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

During the economic recession in the U.S., the number of illegal immigrants steadily declined from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.3 million in 2009, pushing immigration related issues to a less pressing status. As the economy grows, the number increased to 11.7 million in 2012.

The number of illegal immigrants from Mexico was at 57 percent in 2007 and is now at 52 percent, due to a shift in Mexico’s economy as wages are slowly rising. Although Mexico’s number of immigrants has declined, the number of immigrants from Central America has risen in the past four years.

With the growing numbers, the subject of immigration reform has resurfaced once again.

The number of children traveling alone across the U.S. border has been increasing since 2009, according to Cecilla Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The increase has added urgency to the immigration debate, as well as shifted the issue from economic to humanitarian.

The latest estimate predicts that as many as 60,000 children, mostly from Central America and Mexico, will enter the U.S. illegally this year, and the number could possibly grow to 130,000 in the following year. Most of these unaccompanied children come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and are escaping poverty and violence from their previous homes. Although coming without adult guidance, many of the children have plans to reunite with parents or relatives in the States.

While the topic of immigration has not budged much in the past, it is believed that the Republican Party will slowly begin to make policy in favor of amnesty of undocumented citizens or other immigrant rights as a political move to gain voters and support. Obama winning the overwhelming majority of Hispanic votes in the 2008 and 2012 election worked as a wake-up call to Republicans about their strategy.

“Republicans have got to compete for the Hispanic voter,” said Republican Sen. John McCain.

Some congressmen have taken the more emotional side to the issue, focusing on the children who either came by themselves or those who came with their parents who overstayed their visas. Seeing as these children are not at fault, and the U.S. wishes to continue being a land of opportunity, the emotional aspect of passing more forgiving immigration laws has strengthened.

Whether the motivation is political or ethical, Democrats and Republicans have been working on creating a bipartisan bill to resolve differences between the parties concerning those here illegally, mainly children of undocumented citizens. The DREAM act has been discussed between both parties. Its main goal is to ease the path of citizenship via a 5-year plan and to re-vamp visa programs for temporary workers.

The DREAM act has struggled to pass completely but did make recent success. On June 2, the DREAM act was passed in the New York State Assembly. Although it still needs to pass in the Senate, and was turned down during its last attempt in March, it is believed to have a better chance of passing this time around.

Currently, President Obama has been using his executive authority to grant provisional legal status to some of the undocumented immigrants that were brought to the U.S. as children, but hopefully both parties can reach a national agreement in the near future.

“America is an idea; nobody owns it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “We’ve got to create order out of the chaos.”

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, Latin Post, NPR
Photo: New York Times