DREAM Act resurrected

The federal legislation represents sound immigration reform.

Lately, it seems like every other day the government applies a temporary patch to yet another leak that has sprung in our capsizing economy. In their frantic efforts to stay abreast of these crises, lawmakers sometimes seem to have lost sight of what should be their ultimate goal: making fundamental changes to the way business is done in America, so as to leave the country with a sounder infrastructure than it had going into the recession. However, an immigration bill called the DREAM Act that was recently reintroduced into the U.S. House and Senate shows encouraging signs that some legislators are thinking creatively about ways to set America on a better course for the future. The goal of the DREAM Act is to provide a path to citizenship for anyone who entered the United States illegally when he or she was 15 years old or younger. In addition to this age qualification, the bill stipulates that to be eligible for conditional legal status, applicants must have lived in the United States for at least five years and must have graduated from high school or earned a GED. In order to earn full legal status, they must then either attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. With these conditions, the DREAM act avoids many of the flaws that often plague attempts at immigration reform. It strikes a reasonable middle ground between granting complete amnesty to all 10 or so million undocumented immigrants currently living in this country and attempting to deport every last one of them. Proponents of blanket amnesty are too willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that undocumented immigrants do indeed break laws to get here and therefore have no legal right to U.S. citizenship, though they may claim otherwise. On the other hand, proponents of blanket deportation are too quick to dismiss the potentially devastating impact of deporting millions of people who work for American businesses, shop in American stores and live in (and often, surprisingly enough, pay property taxes for) American homes. Any viable solution to the undocumented immigration problem must contain equal parts of the justice that deportation advocates propound and the practicality that most amnesty advocates promote. The DREAM Act is, first and foremost, just. It recognizes that the children of undocumented immigrants had little choice over whether they would join their parents in the United States illegally and therefore donâÄôt deserve to be treated like criminals. Like it or not, many of these children have gone through American public school systems, have spent the majority of their formative years here, and have assimilated fully into American culture. To deport them would often mean ripping them from the only culture they have ever known and depositing them in a place that, though it may be their legal residence, is actually terrifyingly alien and unfamiliar. At the same time, the bill doesnâÄôt give these individuals a free ride to citizenship, which wouldnâÄôt be fair to all the children of parents who chose to go through legal channels to obtain their citizenship. Instead, the act requires that they earn their citizenship by working hard in school or making sacrifices for the United States in the military. This educational and military service requirement also enhances the practicality of the bill. It recognizes that deporting all undocumented immigrants living in America is simply unfeasible and seeks to find the most advantageous way to integrate them into American society. Rather than forcing young immigrants into poverty, leaving them discontent, disenfranchised and with little hope for improvement, the DREAM Act gives them the tools to become productive, value-adding members of American society. If undocumented immigrants are going to be staying here, they might as well be cultivating the full extent of their talents and abilities. Ultimately, allowing immigrants the opportunity to escape blue-collar, minimum-wage jobs through hard work and education can only help the U.S. economy. And if American workers, who are struggling to keep up in the global job market, are forced to work harder to compete for jobs with this new demographic of educated immigrants, so much the better. As it only addresses a segment of the illegal immigrant population, the DREAM Act is only the beginning of any solution to the problem of undocumented immigration. However, it is a step in the right direction, a law that rejects extremes and a proposal that keeps in mind the best long-term solution for America. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in The Dartmouth at Dartmouth College. Please send comments to [email protected]