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Democrats move beyond rhetoric but now need businesses to beat the drum

Felicia Persaud | 8/19/2011, 11:11 a.m.
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

Maybe President Obama was sick and tired of hearing folks dismiss his support of immigration reform as nothing more than rhetoric or maybe Democrats really are mobilized to take the issue seriously as 2012 approaches.

Whichever it was, a day after Obama's speech on the border supporting comprehensive reform, Senate Democrats re-introduced the DREAM Act on Wednesday, May 11.

The bill from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev.), once again calls for legal status to be given to young students who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and who have been living here since.

He was joined in the call by Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

The DREAM Act has been pushed several times since 2001 without success. The bill stipulates that to obtain legalization of their immigration status, those elegible must have been 15 years old or younger when they arrived in the country, have "good moral character," have graduated from high school and have gone to college or served in the Armed Forces for at least two years.

They will also have to verify that they have lived in the United States continuously for the past five years.

However, given the vote last year that killed the bill, it is not Republicans but blue dog Democrats that Reid and his party must be wary of.

Last session, when Democrats controlled both chambers, the bill fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate to prevent a Republican filibuster, with several Democrats voting no.

But as Menendez reminded Wednesday, "We should not punish children for their parents' past decisions. The students who would be helped by the DREAM Act did not make the decision to enter this country in an undocumented fashion. They've followed the rules, worked hard in school and now they want to serve this country in the military or get a higher education."

To win support from Republicans who say the legalization cannot be passed without stricter immigration enforcement, Reid has said he was open to the idea of a bill that would mandate E-Verify, a program that allows employers to check the legal work status of their employees.

Obama must now appeal to the many companies who support the Republicans to drum up support for comprehensive immigration reform and the urgent need for it.

This is the only way to make reform a reality, even if it is the DREAM Act. Obama was right when, on May 10, he used the successes of technology companies like Intel, Google, Yahoo and eBay to make his push for immigration reform.

In a speech in El Paso, Texas, near the U.S. border, the president insisted that it was immigrants who had founded those top tech companies he mentioned and that "immigration reform is not just the right thing to do [but] it's smart for our economy."

Now, these companies along with the chambers of commerce, Fortune 500 CEOs and small business owners who are supporting reform that will allow the undocumented to be put on a path to legalization in the U.S. must lobby the Republicans and blue dog Democrats who oppose it and be more vocal and forceful.

It's the only way senators like John McCain, who, along with Sen. Jon Kyl, has crafted a $4 billion, 10-point plan for double fencing where there is now single fencing, will be swayed. As the old adage goes, money talks and bulls* walks. It's the economics of immigration reform and the companies that stand to be impacted must now take center court.