As final eulogies are being prepared for Sen. Orrin Hatch, I am impressed and enlightened by the many accolades that I have already read from Republicans and Democrats across the nation. I have been reminded of his reputation as a bridge builder, someone willing to work across political differences for the good of people who needed it most. Hatch was a strong conservative who recognized the value of working with others. He understood that a legislative post comes with the expectation that you accomplish something, not just stonewall the other side.
Though a staunch fiscal conservative, Hatch recognized that government should work to help those least able to help themselves. He worked with colleagues from both parties to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and was instrumental in keeping fellow Republicans on board for the Americans with Disabilities Act. He worked with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The news of Hatch’s death immediately brought to mind his 2001 DREAM Act, co-sponsored with Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. That bill was never passed. Over the past 21 years, assorted versions of the DREAM Act have been resurrected, sometimes passed in the House or the Senate, but never in both. In 2021 the latest version passed in the House and is awaiting action by the Senate.
Championing a Senate consideration of the DREAM Act would be a great tribute to Hatch. However, more important than making a statement or a lasting tribute, is that enacting the DREAM Act is the right thing to do because it helps people who, through no fault of their own, are undocumented.
Over the past couple decades, multiple public opinion polls have shown that the majority of Americans, of all political backgrounds, generally support a DREAM Act once they know who is designated as a “Dreamer”. Dreamers are people who were brought to America as children and are American in every way — except on paper. They have grown up here and consider themselves American, but they lack the documents to fully participate in the country they call home. The country of their birth is no longer their home. If we fail to give them the rights of this homeland, then they are truly children without a country, without a home.
While there may be revisions to the current DREAM Act that I am not fully aware of, I do believe I am well-versed in the need for such legislation. I taught English learners in Provo City School District for over 25 years. I have known many students who would experience a life-changing benefit if they could become permanent legal citizens of this great nation that they call home.
Teachers can’t ask about a student’s immigration status, but students sometimes share their struggles. I remember two girls who wanted to know if they could legally travel out of state with their performance dance team. Other students, despite good grades and great need, knew that they could not qualify for federal financial aid and asked for my help and advice on how to afford college. Several years after graduation and some post-high school education, these students still couldn’t be legally employed.
Many times over the past 21 years, I have thought of the student who, in May 2001, came to me asking, “Do you think they are going to pass a new immigration law?” He said his family was really hoping the DREAM Act would make such a difference for their future. I told him that I really did think it was going to happen. Who wouldn’t want to make a law-abiding life possible for young people willing to work hard? I was very optimistic, and I passed that hope on to him. I have often wondered what happened to that young man. I am sure my disappointment was small compared to his.
Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, please commemorate the good work of the late Sen. Orrin Hatch with a renewed consideration of the DREAM Act. Pass the DREAM Act in 2022.
Glori H. Smith, Ph.D., is a retired Utah school teacher and lives in Provo.