DREAM Act in deliberation

By Daniel Stratford

On Wednesday, Nov. 17, the Student Government Association Senate entertained a resolution that would have endorsed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. After vigorously questioning the authors of the resolution, it was tabled to the Senate’s State & Federal Organizing Committee for further consideration and deliberation, much to the chagrin of some who were advocating for this particular resolution.

However, those who were brimming with anger at this action should understand that this is standard procedure in the SGA, especially for lengthy or hotly contested pieces of legislation. The purpose of tabling legislation to a committee is to work out its finer, more controversial points amongst senators who specialize in that legislation’s respective field. Furthermore, delegating debate on legislation to committees ensures that orderly and enlightened exchange may take place on the subject without exposing it to the often-chaotic exchanges on the Senate floor. This is chaos, which I myself have bore witness to all too often, and which serves no purpose aside from fueling division and political innuendo within the Senate.

Indeed, the entire purpose of legislatures is the careful and prudent deliberation of legislation specifically, and of the people’s business in general. Otherwise, what would be the point of having elected representatives, as well as a “little-r” republican system, in the first place? However, as I have elaborated in prior columns, humans are not angels, and are just as susceptible to the effects of group mania and passion as ever. Legislatures in this sense serve as a much-needed guarantor of liberty, and a bulwark against tyranny – the tyranny of unmitigated, unreasoned frenzy.

This specific type of tyranny has been, in years past, the disease that the SGA has fallen victim to en masse. The SGA acted in a manner congruent with what it perceived to be the “people’s will” regarding its constant agitation without any question as to “why” or “how” – the greatest and most calamitous error any self-described assembly can commit. In the process, it picked fights with external entities, both political and non-political, that it could not hope to win, and eschewed its student constituency in the process. Because of this repudiation of its own constituency, the SGA stoked the inferno of apathy, leaving only a few charred embers of political efficacy in its wake.

It is against this type of conduct – the passing of controversial, politically-charged pieces of legislation introduced the night of a given Senate meeting regardless of their impact upon the perception, efficacy, and relevance of the SGA – which the current leadership of the SGA has attempted to reform itself. The most recent Senate meeting was criticized by some for not “considering” the DREAM Act by virtue of its being handed to a committee for further deliberation. This is, in fact, one of the highest honors any piece of legislation can be afforded by the SGA. It demonstrates an innate desire to deliberate and discuss that legislation amongst a body of peers that specialize in its causes and effects. Unlike both chambers of the United States Congress, where pieces of legislation often “die in committee,” legislation that is sent to SGA committees has to either be voted down permanently or sent back to the Senate for final consideration.

One should not make the assumption, however, that the SGA as a whole is opposed to the DREAM Act just because it was delegated to a committee. The fact that the resolution regarding said act was delegated to the State & Federal Organizing Committee is not at all indicative of an up-or-down vote on the act itself, but rather, of the resolution endorsing the act. Historically, the SGA violated its own intrinsic principles as a deliberative governing body by not even debating such things in committee. Rather, their fates would play out in violent wars of oratory upon the senate floor itself. This contributed to a period of gross inefficiency and sloth within the SGA from which we are only now starting to recover.

It is this historical cycle of malfeasance that was considered when deliberating the fate of the aforementioned resolution. This, then, is precisely why the act was tabled to the State & Federal Organizing Committee – not out of prejudice or ill-will towards the act itself, but due to the realization that resolutions such as this should play themselves out on the level of the federal government, and not of the student government. Indeed, it is in the best interest of students that resolutions as controversial as these are tabled for the purposes of considering whether they really are in the interest of the majority of UMass students. If the SGA were to consign itself to the role of not merely an advocate for students, but an eternal agitator as it has in the past, then it would similarly consign its mandate to aid students with bread-and-butter, day-to-day issues to the dustbin of its history.

We stand on the precipice of a great new age in the history of the SGA. If we want to make this new age an efficacious one for the interest of students, then we must recognize the SGA’s dual role. It is an advocate for students on the administrative level and an interface and resource for them on the personal level. We cannot, however, allow the SGA’s role as an advocate to overtake its role as a buttress for the day-to-day efforts of its student constituency. The SGA cannot be, as Billy Joel so eloquently stated, an “angry young man,” with his “hand in the air and his head in the sand.”

Dan Stratford is a senator in the SGA and a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]