News From Washington January 2024

Administration January 2024 PREMIUM

 It is anticipated that the year 2024 will bring disconcerting developments, particularly in Congress, focusing on the November presidential election, the influence of the monolithic Latino Vote, student loans, hate speech on campuses, and immigration decisions affecting Dreamers. The exclusion of Dreamers from immigration measures and the considerations for immigration reform in 2024 will likely play a significant role in the political landscape of the upcoming year.

Lots of Leftovers In Congress for the New Year

2024 is looking to be even more disconcerting than 2023, with news focused on the November presidential election and the power of the so-called monolithic Latino Vote, as well as on many leftover issues of 2023 that are of concern to Hispanics: student loans, hate speech on campuses, more stringent border policies for those claiming asylum and the dismissal of any legalization for Dreamers in the coming immigration decisions. Here’s a quick rundown.

Biden Losing the College Student Vote on Student Loans and Israel

As we enter the presidential election year, President Biden is seeing historic levels of disapproval on multiple levels from polls that show him losing the college age youth vote for two reasons: failure to secure student loan forgiveness as he has been promising since 2020; and now his support for Israel. There are caveats, of course. It’s not like he hasn’t been trying to implement millions of dollars of student loan forgiveness in at least three executive orders. But his proposals haven’t passed the simple constitutional test: the executive branch can’t order new money. It can only execute the budget that was passed. That means executive branch departments (like the U.S. Department of Education) with its approved budget must agree to change priorities and move money around within or between departments. These are exactly the kinds of cabinet fights most Presidents vow to avoid. 

As for the president’s support for Israel, the news in December was universally harsh about the violent protests against the Israel/Hamas war on many U.S. campuses that became openly antisemitic, anti-Jewish tirades. It included well publicized incidents of bullying of Jewish students and even calls for genocide -- that the Presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania defended at a now infamous congressional hearing in early December. The presidents agreed that ‘genocide’ needed to be taken in context and not identified immediately as unacceptable hate speech. That brought a flurry of queries in the press and the media about free speech on campus. “Campuses have become hubs of radical activism,” Scott Walker wrote in the Washington Times on Dec. 15.  

But is that what most students and faculty are experiencing? At Georgetown University in Washington DC, in the first weeks after the Hamas attack of Oct. 7, there were incidents of “support Israel” posters being torn down en masse from campus free speech area walls, replaced by dozens of pro-Palestinian posters. However, the university made clear that taking down posters of an opposing point of view was vandalism; student groups got together, and the Georgetown Jewish Student Association told this reporter that “all was fine now” on campus. The awareness of free speech is high. Most students support it, while many do not support the continued killing of thousands of Gaza.

The implosion of violent free speech on campuses will undoubtedly be an election issue. 

Dreamers Again to be Excluded from Any Immigration Measures

Note: parts of this essay are excerpted from an article “Whatever Happened to the Dreamers?” by Margaret Orchowski in the exclusive newsletter on Dec. 11, 2023.

We used to hear frequently about Dreamers, who are almost always described as immigrants who were brought into the country illegally at an early age by their parents. “There was immediate bipartisan sympathy for these Dreamers when the idea of legalizing them was first proposed by Orin Hatch (R-UT) and his good friend Ted Kennedy (D-MA). Americans didn’t like the fact that because of their illegal immigration status, these young adults who had grown up in America could not get a job nor fulfill their dreams of going to college –and they could be deported at any time. But the Dream Act never passed, despite multiple attempts by Democrats to attach it to various “must pass” bills. It seems to be a case of a legislative proposal “too good to be true” and, for a very sympathetic media, a story “too good to be fact-checked. For over a decade, the Dream Act was used as a bait and switch for other agendas by all sides — by Democrats for comprehensive immigration reform and by Trump Republicans for stricter immigration enforcement. Today, the idea of legalizing Dreamers is adamantly dismissed in any immigration reform being discussed by Congress, upon which funding for aid to Ukraine and Israel war efforts are dependent.”   

“The Dream Act has evolved from a popular idea to legalize some youths who had been living in the country most of their lives as unauthorized immigrants to a law to legalize any migrant minor who has lived here for two years. The current Dream Act, if passed, could become a strong incentive for those who came in on temporary legal visas to overstay – the largest source of illegal immigration today – with the reward of a green card.” As with all complicated issues, 2024 will probably see legislative proposals for immigration broken down into pieces - baby steps that begin a compromise, nothing comprehensive.

So, What Might 2024 Immigration Reform Include?

Several proposals on immigration reform now being considered by Congress could impact Hispanic students and their family members who are immigrants. For one thing, there seems to be general agreement on both sides to tighten up asylum requirements. Both Democrats and Republicans regard offering asylum (temporary) and refuge (permanent) to people fleeing “mortal danger” as an authentic role for any sovereign nation, which should be reflected in its immigration laws. But Democrats tend to see all immigration as a humanitarian social justice issue and therefore favor few if any restrictions, whereas Republicans tend to regard immigration as a work, development and national security issue, and believe that serious enforcement of immigration laws is required.  

New laws and procedures to slow the historic surge of tens of thousands of migrants a day over the southern U.S. border are to be expected, as is attaching such proposals to an urgent bill for fighting border incursions in Ukraine and Israel. Changes being considered include new processes to scale back the executive branch’s power of parole for illegal entrants without vetting and an increase in judicial and border personnel to speed up both asylee application reviews and quick deportation if the migrants’ claim of the threat of mortal danger cannot be justified. During the Congressional recess time, it seems that both sides of the Senate negotiation team agreed that no new legalization processes for unauthorized residents would be considered this round. •


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