For those of us who were glued to our televisions, computers or mobile devices watching the live debate on C-SPAN, the passionate pleas from those supporting the bill and the equally passionate doomsday warnings by those opposed to it were very compelling. How exciting it was to watch democracy in action!
Now that video and official congressional transcripts from that day have been made available to the general public, however, it seems that the actions and words by our members of Congress that day were less about democracy and more about political trickery, outright lies and suspension of the democratic legislative process (if only for a few hours).
On Wednesday, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said, "Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the House, I have heard so much misinformation about the DREAM Act that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, this is not a new bill. It has existed for a decade."
Although there have been different versions of bills with DREAM Act-type provisions, the bill they were actually about to vote on had never been debated in any forum.
In fact, the bill had been introduced just hours earlier and the majority of the provisions within were very different from prior versions of the bill. Invoking the martial law rule, House Democrats did not allow amendments to be made to the bill, took away the ability for the bill to be recommitted, and bypassed all five of the committees with jurisdiction over the provisions of the act.
That's why it was also difficult to believe Conyers when, seconds later, he stated, "Most Americans support the DREAM Act. Poll after poll, the majority of Americans approve of the DREAM Act."
In fact, of the 216 congressmen who voted for the act, 50 were Democrats who had lost their re-election bids or were retiring due in part to their support of previous versions of the bill. In Illinois, the only Democrat with a congressional district outside of Chicago to be re-elected in November was Jerry Costello. He and fellow Illinois congressman Dan Lipinski were the only two Democrats in the Illinois delegation to vote against the Act.
Illinois U.S. Reps. Debbie Halvorson (11th), Melissa Bean (8th), Bill Foster (14th) and Phil Hare (17th) all lost their re-election bids due, in part, to their support of the DREAM Act.
As the bill was only hours old, most of the congressmen had not seen the bill nor had time to fully review it before it came up for a vote. It is safe to say that even fewer Americans knew about the provisions of the bill and so the general American public couldn't possibly approve of a bill which most didn't even know existed.
In order to gain support for the act, open-borders advocates touted the provision that these illegal immigrants would earn their residency status through service in the armed forces.
Conyers continued, "And the last piece of doggerel that I should get rid of is the fact that you can go into the United States military real quickly and be processed as a citizen. Not true. As a matter of fact, you cannot join the military if you are an undocumented person. Yes, that's right."
Conyers was wrong again. 10 USC 504 states: Notwithstanding paragraph (1), the Secretary (of Defense) concerned may authorize the enlistment of a person not described in paragraph (1) if the secretary determines that such enlistment is vital to the national interest. Therefore, this bill is not necessary if its intention is to allow enlistment of illegal immigrants.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Immigration Subcommittee next quoted a Congressional Budget Office study: "The Congressional Budget Office tells us that this bill, if we pass it, will increase revenues by $1.7 billion."
The CBO study quoted was actually conducted for a recent Senate version of the DREAM Act, not the bill they would be voting on. Furthermore, the CBO was flawed in many ways due to ridiculous assumptions. For instance it assumed that:
- All DREAMers would get jobs immediately upon obtaining legal employment authorization and that they would earn enough in wages so as not to receive income tax refunds.
- No DREAMers would lose a job between 2011 and 2020 and thus would not need unemployment insurance assistance, social security, disability or other entitlement programs.
- No DREAMers would utilize the public health care systems that most currently use between 2011 and 2020.
- Only 15 percent of all DREAMers would apply for federal student loans (while approximately five times that amount of American students utilize the program).
- No DREAMer would default on their federal student loan programs although the current rate for American students has been steadily increasing and is now at 7 percent.
The most interesting part of the CBO study is that it conveniently covers only a 10-year period. After that 10th year, all DREAMers would become eligible to apply for welfare benefits.
Even if all the aforementioned assumptions were correct and led to a revenue increase over 10 years, an aging DREAMer population needing more services would definitely incur more deficits on the U.S. A comprehensive 15- to 20-year study would likely reveal that any revenues would be erased almost immediately after that initial 10-year waiting period. Furthermore, the CBO estimate was $1.4 billion, not $1.7 billion.
The Senate debated their version of the DREAM Act before the House vote. During that debate, various false statements about the DREAM Act were made. The most notable of all fallacies however, were made by none other than Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the author and chief sponsor of nearly every Senate version of the bill since 2001.
He said, "For 10 years, they cannot draw a Pell grant, a federal student loan, no Medicaid, no government health programs –they don't qualify for any of it for 10 years."
The version the Senate was about to vote on had also been authored by Durbin just a week earlier, the fourth version of the DREAM Act to be introduced by him since late September 2010. Each of the versions not only had a provision that would allow undocumented aliens to obtain federal student loans, it would also allow them to compete directly with the neediest American students for jobs under the federal work study program.
Additionally, the act would not prohibit states from offering state educational grants to illegal immigrants.
His version of the bill did prohibit illegal immigrants from participating in health care exchanges and similar programs under the health care reform law that passed earlier this year. Currently, when illegal immigrants get sick, they simply go to a local clinic or hospital and get treated and let local governments pick up the tab. In fact, for cities with sanctuary policies, the number one general expenditure is on health care, followed by education costs as a close second.
Therefore, Durbin's implication that they would not be a burden on local hospitals and health care agencies does not hold any water.
To be fair, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also made a huge false statement about the version of the DREAM Act they were about to vote on:
"There is a cost. In addition, for Pell grants—these are grants, not loans students get to go to college—these individuals would be eligible for those as soon as they get in college…"
Although previous versions of the DREAM Act allowed loopholes for DREAMers to obtain Pell grants, that specific version did not allow it. The House version that was voted on would allow DREAMers to apply for Pell Grants only after they've adjusted status to permanent resident.
Senate Democrats held off voting on their version of the DREAM Act on Wednesday and were unable to muster enough votes to invoke cloture on Thursday. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to bring up a vote on the House's version of the act this week.
With so many versions of the DREAM Act floating around and many Americans quoting their opinions on the bills, it became a challenge for even respected journalists such as the Washington Post's Michael Gerson to get his stories right.
In an Op-Ed piece dated Dec. 7, 2010, he discusses the provisions of older versions of the DREAM Act. A few paragraphs later, he references the CBO study and a UCLA study without realizing that they were actually based on other versions of the act. That evening the House introduced yet another version of the act.
The many fallacies in the statements of these key members of Congress bring up questions with only two possible, equally scary answers. The question is: Why are these members of Congress making false statements?
Is it because they want to lie to us or is it because they don't really know what the provisions of the bill are? Whatever the answer, it's not a good thing.
Here is a link from the C-SPAN Video library to the debate that took place on Dec. 8. Look out for a pro-DREAM Act editorial coming later this week.