The DREAM Act: a good first step

opinions

September 7, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Sometimes the catchy acronyms pinned on legislation hit the nail square on the head. The DREAM bill languishing in Congress is one such.
DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. If it becomes law, as it most certainly should, it will allow undocumented students to legally stay in the United States temporarily to study at the post-secondary level. If the students meet mandated conditions, they could also obtain permanent status.
The proposed law would apply only to undocumented aliens under the age of 35 who came to the U.S. before they were 16, have lived in the U.S. for at least the last five years and have obtained a U.S. high school diploma or its equivalent.
The DREAM act would grant them temporary status which would be removed in six years if they successfully complete two years of post-secondary education or military service and if they maintain good moral character during those years — as demonstrated by not being found guilty of a crime.
It helps to understand how reasonable this proposal is to know that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 — that’s 28 years ago — that all children living in the United States were guaranteed a public education through high school, regardless of their immigration status.
It was, and is, a good idea to provide a public education through high school to all children living in the U.S. People who can read, write and deal with numbers can make a contribution to society. Those who cannot frequently have a negative impact on society. Check the literacy levels of our prison inmates if proof of this is required.
For the same reasons that the nation’s highest court ruled that states must educate all children (let none be left behind), those who have the ability and the desire to continue their education after high school should not only be allowed to do so, but should be encouraged to become all that they can be, regardless of their immigration status. It also makes sense to create a path to permanent status for those who succeed in gaining a higher education. They can then make a solid contribution to our country’s future.

THE DREAM ACT invites moral argument. It was written by those who say it is wrong to visit the crimes of parents upon their children. These advocates cite cases in which the children now being denied access to post-secondary education came with their parents into the U.S. when they were infants and have known no other home. How heartless it would be, they argue, to deny those young men and women a chance at a college education or, even worse, to deport them to the homeland of their parents, unprepared for life there.
But it is not necessary to find extreme examples such as these to become a strong advocate of the DREAM Act.
Go back to paragraph three. Note that the bill’s authors thought it appropriate to offer the opportunity of a higher education to those under the age of 35  whom came to the U.S. at the age of 16 or younger. The bill covers such a wide swath of the young undocumented population because the immigration laws went unenforced for decades. Families poured over our borders to take jobs that Americans didn’t want on farms and ranches, in hotels, restaurants, packing plants and in the construction industry . They brought their children with them. This rational, moral reform targets youngsters who come across U.S. borders with their parents as long ago as 1975 and have lived in America since then. If it is morally wrong to make the kids suffer for the sins of their parents, isn’t it an even greater sin to deny them the opportunity to get a higher education because Congress and a gaggle of presidents found political and economic excuses to allow 50 million or so immigrants to establish themselves in America without benefit of the proper papers?

YES, IMMIGRATION reform is sorely needed. But it should be forward-looking reform that deals with the present and future need for imported workers. It should not be aimed at the millions who came in over the past 30 years or more, established themselves in communities in all 50 states, bought homes, paid taxes and raised families.
Immigration reform should start with a tough but reasonable way to grant permanent status and eventual citizenship to those who are law-abiding, contributing members of American society. Step two should be creation of national immigration quotas that would rise and fall annually according to the need for additional workers.
And while this process — which was launched by President George W. Bush — works its way past its opponents — and it will as the economy recovers — the DREAM Act should be passed to reaffirm America’s principles and burnish America’s reputation as a champion of human rights.

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