Among the many contentious issues confronting Congress, one may have a special relevance to human trafficking victims brought into this country: the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, best known by its acronym as the DREAM Act.
The proposed law would grant eligibility for citizenship for thousands of young illegal immigrants if they go to college or serve in the military. DREAM — if enacted — could help an estimated 2,000,000 illegal immigrants who, in the words of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, were “brought here by others … not of their own volition … but were brought here by parents or smuggled into the country by human traffickers.”
A dramatic example of the circumstances Napolitano describes unfolded recently in Cincinnati when 18-year-old Bernard Pastor Pastor, who had been brought to the United States at age 3 by his parents, was placed in federal custody following a Nov. 17 auto accident. Pastor graduated in the spring from a local high school, where he had by all accounts been a model student. Pastor remains in a federal detention center under the control of one of Homeland Security’s major agencies, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, known as ICE.
Because Pastor has graduated high school in the U.S., he could be eligible for assistance through DREAM, but the proposal appears nowhere near enactment and, in fact, is being bitterly opposed by people in and out of government who believe such a law would encourage even more illegal entries.
A leading opponent is incoming House Speaker John Boehner who, interestingly, grew up in the same Cincinnati suburb of Reading as Pastor. “This bill allows those who came here illegally to get taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition for public universities, something that has been prohibited since 1996,” said Cory Fritz, Boehner’s press secretary. “It also provides a path to citizenship for a large number of adults, and provides a safe harbor for any illegal immigrant from being deported because once a DREAM Act application is filed, no matter how spurious, the federal government is prohibited from deporting.
Pastor was not trafficked into this country, but some proponents of DREAM say the law could apply to trafficking victims if they could somehow manage to gain an education or serve in the U.S. military. Trafficking victims can find assistance through the federal TVPA Act, which provides temporary visa protection, rehabilitation and counseling for those who have been exploited in sex trafficking or other forms of modern-day slavery.
While Congress debates the merits of DREAM, young Pastor remains in detention, his future at this point in his young more like a nightmare.