The U.S. Senate has killed the debate on a measure that proponents say could have helped the children of illegal immigrants become law-abiding, productive citizens, if they're willing to jump through all the hoops.
The U.S. Senate has killed the debate on a measure that proponents say could have helped the children of illegal immigrants become law-abiding, productive citizens, if they're willing to jump through all the hoops. Opponents held a different view, arguing that it excuses and rewards what is foundationally a crime that, even if not committed by these kids, should not be encouraged in any way.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, started from the premise that these minors don't deserve to be punished for their parents' crimes, to which they did not have the power to consent. It applied only to those born outside the U.S. to parents who later criminally crossed the border with them prior to a 15th birthday. Under the act, they must have lived here for at least five years and graduated from high school. A command of English was required, as was a virtually unblemished criminal record –– no felonies, two misdemeanors max.
Passing those tests would have given them conditional residency if they then agreed to serve in the military or complete at least two years of college, for which they would not be eligible for federal financial aid. Completing that would have scored them access to legal residency.
Three years later, they could have applied for citizenship. Failure to stay on the straight and narrow anywhere during the process –– any criminal convictions, any welfare assistance –– and their new status would have been yanked. Even after citizenship, they could not have sponsored the immigration of extended family members; they would have had to wait another dozen years before asking to have mom, dad or siblings made legal.
The DREAM Act passed the House, but not the Senate. While the legislation had some kinks in it, we were tempted to side with the Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly a liberal publication, whose editors recently wrote, "What is to be gained by holding otherwise law-abiding young people, who had no say in coming to this country, responsible for the illegal actions of others? The DREAM Act ... makes legal status contingent on school achievement and military service ... behavior that ought to be encouraged and rewarded."
Beyond that, we aren't talking about large numbers of people. It's estimated that nationwide some 65,000 undocumented children get American high school diplomas every year. U.S. Census data suggests this would affect between 7,000 and 13,000 of them annually.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense supported the legislation, seeing a big pool of recruits in a nation now at war and struggling to maintain its "mission-ready, all-volunteer" military. From where we sit, if you're willing to fight and potentially die for this country, that is quite a commitment –– one many current citizens are not willing to make. A path to citizenship at the end of it is a small measure of gratitude for that service.
Finally, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the DREAM Act made financial sense for taxpayers, as well, maintaining that steering these young people down the road to citizenship and paying taxes –– on higher earnings in better careers -–– could have sliced $2.2 billion from the deficit over the next decade.
As we indicated, this legislation was not perfect. Among some other minor concerns, it's difficult to get around the reality that DREAM enrollees would have seemingly been outing their parents, who ostensibly would have then been vulnerable to deportation. Logically, that could have hurt participation, unless Uncle Sam promised to look the other way, which is effectively the amnesty that so many found problematic.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin was DREAM's lead sponsor. He had been proven willing to refine the bill to take into account the objections opponents had raised. Newly minted Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had indicated he would oppose the bill, saying that a serious attempt at halting the flow of illegals should precede any effort like this one.
Again, the Wall Street Journal is among those who've pointed that this could have been a political opportunity for Republicans to prove they're not anti-immigrant, which risks losing them the growing Hispanic vote for a generation. As a professed moderate, Kirk might have considered that.
Ultimately, we believe in the rule of law. Too many Americans too nonchalantly dismiss the fact that too many immigrants living and working in this country have broken the law by being here.
That said, judgment is commonly exercised in enforcing this nation's laws, which arguably should always be informed by pragmatism, compassion and, yes, self-interest. This nation has a long history of enticing and embracing the best and brightest that the world has to offer –– those willing to study and improve themselves, to work hard and contribute –– in exchange for the opportunities that exist for them here.
Often they adopt the principles upon which this nation stands with greater fervor than those who have long called America home and take it all for granted. It's no great secret that first-generation Americans are disproportionately high achievers. The United States has benefited immeasurably from them.
The all-or-none position many have with regards to the millions upon millions of illegal immigrants already here is not realistic, and compromise is required. This legislation was not that outrageous, but it was not a slam-dunk call. We recommend continued work on immigration law and on securing this nation's borders.