Sen. Harry Reid made his effort to pass the DREAM Act a centerpiece of his re-election campaign in 2010, and won with crucial help from the Latino community. With Latinos poised to play a major role in the 2012 elections, Democratic Senate candidates in the Southwest are following suit — urging the national party to add the DREAM Act to its national platform.
Senate hopefuls Rep. Martin Heinrich in New Mexico, Rep. Shelley Berkley in Nevada and Richard Carmona in Arizona are leading the charge.
The DREAM Act passed the Democratic-led House in 2010, but died in the Senate. Despite widespread support for the measure among Democrats, the DREAM Act has never been on the party’s platform. In 2008, the party called simply for “comprehensive, not piecemeal” immigration reform.
This time, the platform drafters are strongly considering adding the DREAM Act. The drafting committee met in Minneapolis in July to hear testimony and outline a draft. This weekend, the full platform committee will meet in Detroit to approve the platform that will be presented to delegates at the convention in Charlotte.
Frank Sharry, an immigration reform advocate who testified on the immigration plank, told TPM he “strongly recommended that they include language that supports passage of the DREAM Act as well as passage of the broader reform.” Sharry thinks there’s a good chance it will make it onto into the final platform. “Since these are President Obama’s oft-stated priorities, I doubt it will be a heavy lift to get them into the final platform.”
Heinrich also thought President Obama’s support for the DREAM Act — which he touts on the trial — will help their effort. “I think this is the right time … especially given the leadership the president has shown on the issue,” Heinreich said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. So far, he said Democrats’ response has been “very positive” and he’s “hopeful this is happening.”
Beyond the national level, however, Sharry sees the push by Senate Democratic candidates on the issue as a significant shift. Rather than defending themselves against GOP attacks on amnesty, Democrats are playing offense. “The new Democratic approach is to embrace the issue, mobilize Latinos and progressives, win over swing voters and put Republicans on the defensive,” Sharry said.
Adding the DREAM Act plank is a politically deft move with no downside, because opposing it is “very hard to rationalize,” Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva told TPM Thursday. Grijalva said that DREAM Act is beginning to swing in Democrats’ favor — and the opposition knows it. “My opponents have said, ‘he’s an amnesty guy and an open border guy,’” Grijalva said, but “that one-trick pony is dying.”
Latino voters support Democrats by a wide margin — TPM’s PollTracker Average shows Obama leading Romney among Latino voters 63.5 percent to 34 percent — but they’re particularly crucial in states like New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Democrats, who did not make comprehensive immigration reform a priority in Obama’s first term while upping the deportation rate, have work to do to win Latinos by the same wide margins they did in 2008.
Putting the DREAM Act in the party platform would draw a bright line between the two parties and could forces Mitt Romney to discuss his vague position on immigration reform. A typical Romney statement on his immigration plan: “I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner,” he told Latino elected officials in June.
“It’s important to have those contrasts,” Grijalva said, pointing out that Romney, who said during the primary that he would veto the DREAM Act, still opposes it. Romney refused to support Obama’s decision to stop deporting DREAMers, a policy change he announced in May.
But Republicans haven’t given up on pealing away Democrats’ lead among Latinos. They’ve padded their convention lineup with Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez who believe in reaching out to the Latino community and who oppose the hard-line approach taken by states like Arizona and Alabama and backed by Romney in the primary. Martinez supports comprehensive reform which includes the provisions of the DREAM Act — providing a path to citizenship through college or military service for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — but does not support it as a stand-alone bill.
And Romney knows that giving up on Latinos is not an option. “I am 110 percent convinced that the Romney campaign is very concerned with the Hispanic vote,” the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, an evangelical leader who has advised the Romney campaign on Latino issues, told TPM in June.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.