Back in the day, members of both major political parties used to work with each other, rather than just pop out bills in the hope that the other side would reject them, thus creating a good election issue. Congress practiced the art of something called compromise. Members hashed out deals with provisions for policy reasons, not because they made for good talking points.
Or maybe Washington always passed self-serving, low-rent legislation, and I was just too young to know any better.
One thing is for sure: No reasoned bill born of compromise is likely to emerge from Washington until after the 2008 presidential election -- especially on the dicey issue of immigration. Not in your dreams. Not even the DREAM -- Development Relief, and Education for Alien Minors -- Act authored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., which would grant legal status and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrant children if they arrived here before they were 16, lived in the United States for five years, are high school graduates or earned a GED, have good moral character -- and served in the military or attended college for two years.
Durbin has a moral argument: It is not the fault of young adults who have grown up as Americans if their parents smuggled them across the border when they were children. Innocent young people should not be punished for their parents' crimes.
Thus the DREAM Act has 26 Senate cosponsors, including Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd and GOP White House wannabe John McCain. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will allow the bill's first stand-alone floor vote before Nov. 16. In 2003, a version of the bill passed the Judiciary Committee by a 16 to three vote. Durbin's office is hopeful the bill will pass.
"Several individuals who did not vote for comprehensive immigration reform have said that the DREAM Act is something that they're willing to take a look at," said spokesperson Sandra Abrevaya.
Sorry, I don't think the DREAM Act will pass before 2008 is over. Not given the spectacular failure of the Bush-backed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill after enraged voters let Washington know they want no amnesty until the government does a better job of enforcing existing immigration laws. And I doubt that U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer's ruling Wednesday -- barring the Bush administration from cracking down on employers who hire illegal workers -- will improve the public's mood.
Steven Camarota, director of research for the anti-amnesty Center for Immigration Studies, said of the Durbin bill, "It's deader than a can of corned beef."
Camarota rejected the notion that the Durbin bill represents compromise.
"One side gets a little of what it wants, the other side gets zippo." Add robust mandatory workforce enforcement language -- and maybe he'll think otherwise. He added, "I concede that there are things here that give me pause, but in this chaotic situation when the rule of law is completely absent, you don't start enforcing the rule of law by rewarding illegal behavior."
I get that. But enforcing the law by punishing those who did not choose to break it -- that's not right. Yes, the DREAM Act would reward parents' illegal behavior -- which doesn't sit right either -- but at least it would help young adults who see themselves as Americans and follow the rules.
Some day, after 2008, after the government shows that it can enforce immigration laws, Washington might pass a good immigration reform compromise. Until then, it's but a dream.