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Weekly Diaspora: The final fight for the DREAM Act

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It’s a now-or-never moment for the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a conditional path to citizenship for certain immigrant youth. The bill’s prospects won’t improve with next Congress’ influx of Republican legislators, and thousands of undocumented students and their bipartisan supporters are urging the Senate to pass the DREAM Act. But as the Senate appears ready to finally vote on the landmark bill, state lawmakers are moving in the exact opposite direction.

In California, Colorado and Minnesota, state legislators have recently filed enforcement bills modeled after Arizona’s draconian SB 1070, and a cadre of conservative citizens are already mobilizing in support of the measures. But whether those measures will hold up in light of mounting evidence that such bills are fiscally irresponsible remains to be seen.

Some lawmakers never learn…

New America Media reports that a Tea Party-backed immigration enforcement bill was filed in California last week, bolstered by a signature drive to raise support for the measure‘s inclusion on the 2012 ballot. Reading like a roll call of Arizona’s most controversial immigration measures to date, the bill would require law enforcement to perform immigration status checks, require businesses to use the notoriously ineffective E-Verify program, ban undocumented persons from driving or soliciting work on the street and prohibit sanctuary cities.

Meanwhile in Colorado, State Senator-elect Kent Lambert (R) announced his plans to introduce “a carbon copy of SB 1070” early in the next session, according to Scot Kersgaard at the Colorado Independent. Eschewing concerns about the bill’s constitutionality, Lambert added that if the bill is not passed and signed by Governor-elect John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, he would move to put the measure on the ballot.

And in Minnesota, Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent reports that a group called Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform (MINNSIR) is launching a petition to build support for an SB 1070 copy-cat bill expected to reach the House floor in the upcoming session. The group, derived from the Minnesota Minutemen (whom the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as “Nativist Extremist”), is known for spreading misinformation about immigrants, including the erroneous claim that Mexican immigrants spread leprosy.

SB 1070 vs. the Dream Act: A Cost Benefit Analysis

But while obstinate lawmakers doggedly push for SB 1070-styled legislation, evidence is mounting that such draconian measures are fiscally irresponsible.

As Marcos Restrepo reports at the American Independent, a new study commissioned  by the Center for American Progress reveals that Arizona has lost $400 million in economic output and $130 million in earnings as a result of SB 1070-provoked conference cancellations alone. Defending the measure, moreover, has already cost the state more than $1 million -- a bill other states can anticipate footing should they move forward with similar legislation.

Restrepo notes that the high costs of imposing and defending such measures is economically impractical -- especially when compared to the potential economic benefits of passing the DREAM Act. That bill could increase the nation’s pool of higher-income workers by up to 2 million college graduates, according to the Migration Policy Institute, which could ultimately generate $3.6 trillion for the economy over the next 40 years.

The DREAM Act builds momentum

The DREAM Act has the potential to be so beneficial that, as the clock ticks towards the 11th hour vote, the bill is garnering significant new bipartisan support. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has voiced her support for the measure, according to William Fisher at of the Inter Press Service News Agency, as have the editorial staffs of both the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Moreover, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is a long-time vocal advocate of the act on the grounds that “immigrants strengthen America.” (Campus Progress has more on that).

And the Obama administration has come fully on board, finally assuming a “high profile, public role” in passing the DREAM Act, according to Julianne Hing at ColorLines. Hing notes that the move is a stark, if welcome, departure from the administration’s usual approach to immigration reform, which has favored punitive, enforcement heavy bills over comprehensive reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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