Monday, December 6, 2010

Who Could Possibly be Against the Dream Act?

 This coming week, a showdown looms in Congress over passage of the DREAM Act.  This is a bill that provides permanent resident status to illegal residents who came into the country as minors and who have been admitted to college or have earned a college diploma or a general education development (G.E.D.) certificate.  The bill also provides that the applicant must be of  "a person of good moral character since the time of application" and neither inadmissible nor deportable under the immigration laws.

This bill has much to commend it.  The arguments should be familiar ones. For example, why in the world would a society choose to punish a child for decisions made by her parents?  In the context of the DREAM Act, why keep a child from attending college because his parents happened to have come into the United States illegally? Whatever else one thinks of the parents' initial choice, how could be possibly hold the child morally responsible for that decision?  Relatedly, once the child graduates from high school and/or enrolls in college, what is gained by keeping her from getting a college degree?  This is not much different from an H-1B work visa, which allows applicants from "specialty occupations" (such as accounting, engineering, doctors, nurses, and financial analysts, to name a few) the opportunity to apply for work in this country ahead of others.  The same policy would appear to apply in both situations.

If neither of these two arguments persuades you much, then think about the DREAM Act simply as a crude policy calculation.  That is, what is the downside of encouraging young children to apply themselves in school and graduate from high school, and to try to attend college?

When I first heard about this legislation, I remember thinking, who could possibly be against this bill, and what would their reasons be?

Silly me

One argument, based on a report by the Center for Immigration Studies, focuses on the estimated cost of the legislation.  According to Steven Camarota, who authored the report, the cost will be around 6.2 million dollars.  There is much debate over this figure; according to a competing report by the Congressional Budget Office, for example, the Act will instead reduce the deficit over the next ten years.  But this is not an argument against the legislation itself, since Mr. Camarota happily concedes that the report only speaks to the funding issue, and not to the policy itself and whether it is a good or a bad idea.

A second argument, put forth by Republican leaders in Congress, focuses on the old chestnut that any kind of amnesty is a bad idea irrespective of facts or circumstances.  According to Senator Sessions, for example, the Act will "reward those who illegally enter the country."  Similarly, according to Michelle Malkin, the Democratic leadership "can tweak all they want, but this warped-priority political pay-off is still a reckless, tone-deaf down payment on a broader illegal alien amnesty at a time of near-double-digit unemployment and border chaos." National Review's Heather MacDonald similarly argues that

DREAM Act beneficiaries are certainly the most sympathetic category of amnesty candidates, and opponents of the act have been accused of hard-heartedness. Yet the act indisputably encourages and incentivizes more illegal behavior. It continues to send the message that the U.S. is not serious about its immigration laws, but will always eventually confer the same benefits on people who break the law entering the country as on those immigrants who respected American law. 
One could try to respond to these positions, and many have already tried. I don't think I or anybody else could add anything new.  But two thoughts are worth mentioning.  First, this debate highlights how difficult it is  to have rational national conversations in this political environment.  Or as the Immigration Policy Center states on its website, we should try to "giv[e] facts a fighting chance."  Second, and to come full circle, it is worth pointing out the message this legislation sends; in the words of The Economist, "The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters."

Not monsters indeed.  What a concept.

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