During a report on the DREAM Act, a measure proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin that would have provided permanent resident status to a select group of undocumented immigrants, CNN's Lisa Sylvester reported that the bill's sponsors "held a news conference in the Capitol with illegal alien college students who'd benefit from the program," and that "[o]pponents demanded federal immigration officials detain the illegal aliens." However, several media outlets have reported that the three students featured at the press conference all have temporary legal status.
On the October 23 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, while reporting on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have provided Legal Permanent Resident status to immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16, graduate from a U.S. high school, and either serve in the military or attend college for at least two years, correspondent Lisa Sylvester claimed that, earlier that day, the bill's sponsors had "held a news conference in the Capitol with illegal alien college students who'd benefit from the program." Sylvester continued, "But that may have backfired. Opponents demanded federal immigration officials detain the illegal aliens." Sylvester then highlighted comments by Republican presidential candidate Rep. Tom Tancredo (CO), who issued a press release "call[ing] on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to detain any illegal aliens at this press conference," and anti-illegal immigration activist Rosemary Jenks, who stated: "You know, if the U.S. Capitol is a sanctuary, why shouldn't everyone come in illegally?" In concluding her report, Sylvester noted that "[n]one of the students was detained."
In contrast with the assertion on Dobbs that the students are "illegal alien[s]," ABC News investigated the status of the students attending the event and, on October 24, reported on its website:
[One of the students, Manuel] Bartsch was born in Germany but was raised by his step-grandparents in the United States. He said he'd tried to take a college entrance exam but didn't have a Social Security number. Bartsch's step-grandfather hadn't completed the proper paperwork, and Bartsch didn't become a U.S. citizen. This began a years-long bureaucratic odyssey for Bartsch, who is now a junior in college. Along the way, he'd been placed in detention by immigration authorities for 16 days. Ultimately, due to the intervention of Ohio Republican Rep. Paul Gillmor, Bartsch was awarded permanent resident status by the Department of Homeland Security.
Bartsch was joined at the event today by two other students, who could benefit from the DREAM Act. Tam Tran, whose Vietnamese parents came to the United States illegally from Germany, has lived in the here since she was 10. Tran is a UCLA graduate who wants to pursue a doctorate at the University of Southern California but can't because she needs federal student loans. The government can't deport her family to Vietnam because her father was persecuted by the communist government there, and ... Germany won't take them back either. Tran said today she is in "permanent legal limbo."
All this means little to Marie Gonzalez, the third student to appear with Durbin today. She has lived in Missouri since she was 5 -- her parents were deported to Costa Rica in 2005 -- and she will be deported too in June 2008, when a temporary Homeland Security waiver of action against her expires. Gonzalez said today she'll be 18 hours away from graduation at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., when she officially becomes illegal again.
In an October 23 entry on the Politico's The Crypt blog, staff writer Martin Kady II reported that the three students who appeared at the press conference "have been given temporary extensions that allow them to stay in the country":
The three students were Tam Tran, a 24-year old Vietnamese graduate student; Marie Gonzalez, a 21-year old Costa Rican college student; and Manuel Bartsch, a college sophomore from Germany. All three young adults, who were introduced at a Capitol press conference, have been in the United States for years, but their parents entered the country illegally. All three of them have faced legal hurdles and potential deportation, but have been given temporary extensions that allow them to stay in the country.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored the Dream Act, said he found it "absolutely stunning" that a member of Congress would call on college students to be arrested at a press conference.
"Their status has been publicly known by federal agencies," Durbin said. "What does it say about America that a member of Congress would call on these young people to be arrested? I don't think they should be arrested. They should be given a chance."
Democratic aides say they were careful in vetting each student so that neither they nor their families would be hurt by the publicity, since their long-term legal status as U.S. residents is in question.
"It's always a concern," said Tim Vettel, a spokesman for the American Immigration Law Foundation, which is pushing the Dream Act. "We often get calls from the media asking us to connect them with illegal immigrants, but this is always a concern."
Using children of undocumented immigrants, even college students, as press conference props is sure to inflame the already tense debate over immigration.
"Their strategy du jour is using sympathetic cases to push policy," said one Senate GOP aide. "They appear to be the most optimal illegal aliens the Dems could find."
All of the showcased students have encountered legal troubles. Tran, a UCLA graduate, has not been given long-term permission to stay in the country; Gonzalez's parents have been deported; and Bartsch, an Ohio college student, was arrested in 2005 by federal immigration authorities but has been granted a temporary permission to remain in the country.
An October 24 USA Today article also reported that the three students have received some form of temporary legal status:
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., issued a news release calling for immigration officials to arrest the three students who appeared with Durbin at his news conference.
All three students have legal status. Manuel Bartsch, a college freshman from Ohio, and Marie Gonzalez, a college junior from Missouri, both had deportation orders postponed because of the intervention of members of Congress. Tam Tran, a recent UCLA graduate, had her deportation stayed because Germany, the country where she was born after her parents fled Vietnam, refused to accept the family back.
Additionally, at the beginning of the segment, host Lou Dobbs said: "Now, Democratic lawmakers are trying once again, one bill at a time, trying to subvert the will of the people who expressed themselves about as clearly as can be expressed this past June. This time, these legislators are calling it the DREAM Act." Neither Dobbs nor Sylvester noted that the legislation was also co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel (NE) and Richard Lugar (IN).
On October 24, supporters of the DREAM Act failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation. The cloture vote was rejected 52-44.
From the October 23 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: The United States Senate is at it again -- Sen. Harry Reid demonstrating why he should be leader of the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill.
The new legislation is part of the failed so-called "grand compromise" Immigration Reform Act. Now, Democratic lawmakers are trying once again, one bill at a time, trying to subvert the will of the people who expressed themselves about as clearly as can be expressed this past June. This time, these legislators are calling it the DREAM Act.
[begin video clip]
SYLVESTER: Led by Senator Dick Durbin, the DREAM Act has been reawakened. The plan that could provide conditional legal status for more than a million illegal aliens was part of a comprehensive immigration bill that failed this summer. The Illinois Democrat is hoping a limited version he is now pushing forward will attract more votes.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): We're dealing with young people brought to the United States by their parents, some of them as toddlers, who've grown up here and know no other country.
SYLVESTER: The bill would grant amnesty to illegal aliens up to 30 years old, who entered the United States before age 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years. They would be eligible for college federal student loans and work-study programs.
And if they stay in college or join the military for two years, they would be put on a path to citizenship. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama estimates that 1.3 million young people could take advantage of the program, but calls it a back-door amnesty for millions more.
SESSIONS: That if a person is legalized under this process, they can bring their wife and children and legalize them. They can bring their parents and brothers and sisters. So, the 1.3 million, which is quite a large number, is a really low figure. It'd be much more than that.
SYLVESTER: Sponsors of the DREAM Act need 60 votes to get the bill through. To gain more supporters, they held a news conference in the Capitol with illegal alien college students who'd benefit from the program. But that may have backfired. Opponents demanded federal immigration officials detain the illegal aliens.
SYLVESTER: Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican running for president, echoed that sentiment, saying, quote, "If we can't enforce our laws inside the building where American laws are made, where can we enforce them?"
[end video clip]
SYLVESTER: None of the students was detained.
Now, on the DREAM Act, a vote is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Supporters need 60 votes to move it forward. They estimate right now that they have about 55 votes or so, but they are lobbying hard to pick up additional votes in the coming hours -- Lou.
DOBBS: So, at this point, it looks like the cloture vote will succeed or fail?
SYLVESTER: At this point, it's a little too close to call. I mean, they are estimating that they have about 55 votes or so. If they can pick up five additional votes, it will go through. And either side says it could go either way. So, for instance, Senator Jeff Sessions is urging people to call their members of Congress.
DOBBS: Call their members of Congress and whichever way you feel about this, let your U.S. senator know exactly what you think of this utter nonsense.
This is a clear effort on the part of the Democratic leadership and that brilliant leader, Senator Harry Reid, to subvert, again, the will of the American people, to disregard the interests of the American people and American citizens, and to pander, to pander to the socio-ethnocentric interest groups in this country, corporate America -- and, believe me, this battle is going to continue.
And if the American people flag in their both interest in the subject and their vigilance over these -- the Democratic leadership in both the Senate and the House, they're going to have their way, and the will of the majority is going to be disregarded again by what the Democratic leadership and the Senate wants to call a progressive approach. Absolutely absurd.
Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester reporting from Washington, as you will be for some time to come on this issue, I'm afraid, Lisa. Thank you.