How Alexander, Corker Could Boost Republican Momentum for DREAM Act

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The DREAM Act — which would give immigration status to youth in exchange for living outstanding American lives — is on a roll. The legislation is getting more attention, is the subject of more student protests, and has been reincarnated in more bills this year than ever before.

It's also getting more and more Republican support and less vitriolic pushback from conservatives in the U.S. Senate. The resistance out of Washington is morphing from "Give me a perfect border or I'll give you nothing" to "I want to see the final language of the bill."

Conservatives are effectively writing the latest amendments to the bills. Case in point: On Tuesday, a fifth version of the DREAM Act was introduced to address various talking points coming from the right, including age restrictions, in-state tuition, government benefits, and revenue neutrality.

Some conservatives are actively lobbying for the DREAM Act or at least abandoning the "deport-'em-all" line - including Nashville's own Richard Land, a Southern Baptist Convention bigwig, and Colin Powell (see Betsy's post). The Pentagon is on board as a "yes" to the DREAM Act. Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a 2010 creation, is gathering support from evangelicals.

Just hypothetically, if the DREAM Act were to pass with Republican support, would any of that support come from Tennessee?

Bob Corker has voted against comprehensive immigration reform bills in general and the DREAM Act specifically, so he doesn't seem like a good prospect. On the other hand, part of his previous opposition was based on the comprehensive bill being too broad and the DREAM Act having been tied to a defense spending bill. A stand-alone DREAM Act addresses both concerns.

Furthermore, Corker is cultivating a reputation as an independent pragmatist. If he really means that he wants to look at immigration in a "thoughtful manner," the DREAM Act may be one way to demonstrate the difference between thoughtfulness and partisanship.

As for Lamar Alexander, he voted against the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill in 2006, when his President supported it and his junior colleague Bill Frist voted for it. So it's a safe guess that Alexander will sit out the DREAM Act, even if his new junior colleague Mr. Corker votes for it.

But on a substantive level, Alexander has previously said that offering at least temporary immigration status would be acceptable, if a certain measure of responsibility were expected in return.

And on a personal level, Alexander's college self spoke Spanish and admired student demonstrations in Latin America. The parallels to today's fight for the DREAM Act are tight, although of course Alexander is not bound to his earlier sentiments.

What I can't shake is the fact that Alexander once praised a Guatemalan adult who posed as an 18-year-old at an American high school. The man was "eager to learn," Alexander said, perhaps conjuring another one of his former selves, the U.S. Secretary of Education. In that one remark, Alexander was capable of seeing the educational nuance in what could otherwise be seen as a mere violation of rules.

John Lamb is the editor of HispanicNashville.com

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