Will Dream Act Heal Democratic Wounds With Hispanic Voters?

The House of Representatives has passed a potential landmark piece of immigration legislation in the form of the Dream and Promise Act, but the bill's future now rests in the evenly divided Senate.

The Dream and Promise Act would create a pathway to citizenship for around 2.5 million undocumented migrants who came to the U.S. as children. These are the so-called Dreamers, who were protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Polling shows that granting legal status to migrants who were illegally brought into the country as children is broadly popular among voters and particularly among Hispanics.

A major Pew Research poll from June 2020 showed that 74 percent of Americans support granting legal status to childhood arrivals.

This figure rose to 88 percent among Hispanics and the proposal enjoyed 86 percent support among U.S.-born Hispanics and 92 percent support among foreign-born Hispanics.

Passing the Dream and Promise Act is a potential political victory for President Joe Biden and the Democrats but experts who spoke to Newsweek suggested that what happens in the Senate will be crucial.

Professor Robert Suro of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California said that Hispanics will want to see a serious commitment from Democrats and warned about other factors.

"It's doubtful that House passage alone will have a big impact," Suro said. "Much more relevant will be what happens next and how much capital Biden and the Senate Dems are willing to invest in getting something through the Senate.

"First, whether they are willing to break the filibuster for the Dreamers, unlikely, and if not, how far they are willing to compromise down to get GOP votes. That will determine whether immigration rallies progressive Democrats."

Suro pointed to criminal bars to citizenship in the bill passed by the House. These provisions have been criticized by immigration advocates, including Human Rights Watch.

"Though whatever is gained with Dreamers could easily be lost at the border if Biden has to get harsh," Suro said.

"And meanwhile, the third or so of Hispanic voters who backed Republicans in 2020 are not likely to be swayed by what the Democrats do on immigration. It is not the issue that animates them even if they support generous policies in principle. They voted for Trump after all."

Former President Donald Trump increased his support among Hispanic and Latino voters in the 2020 election. Though they are by no means a homogenous group whose voting patterns can be easily predicted, the figures are a cause for concern among Democrats.

Professor Carlos A. Campo is president of Ashland University and vice chairman of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He sees the Dream and Promise Act as a potential victory for Biden.

"My sense is that if the Senate passes the current Dreamers legislation, it will be a huge win for President Biden and the Democrats," Campo told Newsweek.

"Hispanics recall that, despite promises to the contrary, the Obama-Biden team never reformed immigration as we had hoped.

"With the current border crisis—fueled in part by propaganda in Latin American countries about a new, pro-immigrant president—Biden needs an early win for midterm Democratic elections and a future presidential Democratic run," Campo said.

Getting the Dream and Promise Act through the Senate may be key to healing old wounds with Hispanic voters, particularly after years of failing to deliver on a widely popular policy for childhood arrivals. It remains to be seen how far Democrats are willing to go to push the bill, especially if doing so will stoke the debate about the filibuster.

Biden Speaks During a Listening Session
President Joe Biden speaks during a listening session with Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia on March 19, 2021. Democrats hope to pass a major piece of immigration legislation. ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images