Immigration: Comprehensive Reform vs. Piecemeal Reform

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are still going strong in the fight for passing one bill that would completely revamp our immigration system and deal, on a global basis, with border security, employment immigration, a path to citizenship for the Dreamers[1]and a way to handle the 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States.  Advocates had high hopes for this reform to be passed through Congress prior to August 2nd, when Congress went on its summer recess.  Although a comprehensive reform bill passed the Senate,[2]it had stalled in the House before the recess began.  A lot of debate still remains about border security and whether or not a path to citizenship should be instituted for the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.  Now that our Representatives are home and meeting with their constituents, the immigration advocacy and debate has continued and the push for reform has not been swept under the proverbial table quite yet. 

A new debate is beginning though, amongst and between advocates for immigration reform.  While all are still pushing for full comprehensive change and relief, some in the advocacy committee are saying that reform may have a better chance for success if the bill is separated out and the individual immigration issues are dealt with on a one-by-one basis.  The idea is that some parts of immigration reform may be easier to pass through the House than others, and it would be better to get some reform than nothing altogether.  For example, the population of people who would be eligible for benefits if there was a new Dream Act passed would be far less than the total population of undocumented individuals in the U.S.  Additionally, the Dreamers are more sympathetic than their parents, in that in order to be a Dreamer, among other requirements, a person had to come over to the United States as a child, live and be raised in the United States, and go to school or have graduated from school or earned a GED in the U.S.  Most of these children came over when they were very young and did not have any “mens rea” or criminal intent when they crossed the border without proper documentation.  They also cannot have a criminal record.  The lack of guilt on their part makes reform for this group easier to accept for some legislators rather than, for example, their parent’s who knew what they were doing when coming over here.  In fact, Republican law makers considered passing a Dreamers Bill this past July.[3] 
As an advocate for immigrant children, I help abused and neglected children receive immigration benefits through Special Immigration Juvenile Status (SIJS) and older children and young adults in the “Dreamers” category through President Obama’s administrative order allowing for a partial “Dream” through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  Therefore, with this background in helping children, my first reaction is that some reform, especially reform that would help underrepresented children, who had no part in creating their current legal predicament, should be welcomed and celebrated with open arms. 
There is hefty push back on this, however.  Most surprisingly, the push-back is coming from the Dreamer’s population itself, the very group that would gain the most from a new Dreamers Act being passed.[4]  Their argument is that family preservation is paramount and nothing less than full reform for all undocumented individuals is acceptable.  Their parents risked everything for them to have a better life here in the U.S., and now they are taking a similar risk for their parents in opposing a new Dream Act. 
Last week, an Ohio family’s struggle made the national press because of the threat of deportation to the undocumented father, when his children need him here to help them, especially the special needs child who requires around-the-clock care by his parents.[5]  This is a fairly typically family with a mix of both documented and undocumented members residing in the U.S. within one nuclear family.  The push back from the children is that simply focusing on the children is not enough; because they need their parents here in the U.S. with them to thrive and grow into contributing members of society.  As an adoption and immigration professional, I agree and make this argument on a regular basis when the situation is turned around and the adopted child is undocumented and the parents are US citizens.  In other words, an adoption is only strong if the family can get the child immigration benefits as well as a finalized adoption so that the family can remain and live together as a unit.  If a child is at risk of getting deported, then the adoption also fails because the unity meant to be created by the adoption would be ripped apart.  The same reasoning should hold true even in non-adoptive families when the tables are turned and the children already have citizenship either through birth right or a new Dreamers Act but their parents are undocumented. 
Is it better to have some reform, especially for children, if that means that they could potentially stay here, but their parents might still face deportation?  Or should all advocates of immigration reform hold out and not promote anything less than comprehensive reform?

[1]Dreamers are immigrants who entered the country undocumented as children
[2]The Senate Bill passed on June 26, 2013 after much debate.  It passed 68 to 32, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans in support of the comprehensive bill.
[3] House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., worked to unveil the Kids Act to give Dreamers the same path to citizenship that they voted against in 2010.
[4] See Fox, Lauren,  GOP DREAM Act Not Enough For Dreamers, GOP’s piecemeal approach gets blasted by dreamers, US News, July 22, 2013, available at
[5] See Sarlin, Benjy, Ohio Family’s Struggle Defines Deportation Debate, MSNBC, August 16, 2013, available at

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