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The controversial DREAM Act rewards hard work and addresses need for immigration reform

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, October 11, 2010

Updated: Monday, October 11, 2010 13:10


Last week, we had two great articles covering the Senate block of a defense bill which included a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the somehow fair and equitable code of silence on gay and lesbians who serve in the military. Like many others, I feel that this is a completely unproductive policy and I would hope that it is repealed in short order. However, an overlooked element of the very same bill was snuck in by Democrats just a week earlier. It is called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, and gives a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. Senate Republicans called on the Democrats for playing politics over their inclusion of the Act.

The DREAM Act or a similar form has actually been floating around Congress since 2001. The Act allows immigrants who fall under particular criteria to have a path to attainment of citizenship in the United States. One must be between 12 and 35 at the time the law is enacted, have arrived in the U.S. before they were 16 years old and lived here for at least five years, obtain a high school diploma or GED and be of “good moral character.” If the immigrant has these criteria, they can attain citizenship by either attending college for two years or serving in the military.

The best estimates say that although there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., only about 825,000 people would be able to attain citizenship through the Act. At least in population terms that is larger than estimates of the number of gay and lesbian people serving in our military on active duty. Without becoming an issue of virtue, my point is more that the DREAM Act need not be dealt with in a defense bill, when the act will clearly be of much larger impact on immigration policy than military conscription. My feeling is that the DREAM Act is more controversial than repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which two-thirds of Americans feel should be done away with.

Opponents of the DREAM Act say that it could encourage immigrants to come here illegally, sort of a reward to bad behavior. Others suggest that it is not enough, as it would have a real impact on a very small group of people within the larger context of the immigration issue.

The benefits of the act are best understood on a personal level. Earlier this year, a story broke about a 19 year-old student named Eric Balderas, a biology student who had a full scholarship to Harvard and was detained by immigration officials shortly before boarding an aircraft. However, the law allows for a number of special scenarios like this. But the problem is not that Mr. Balderas would be made to leave the country, it is that he was detained in the first place.

Some Republicans may call this a back door to amnesty or a policy of rewarding bad behavior, but in truth this argument is about young people and their merits. Our society rewards integrity, dedication and hard work, and so there must be a method to allow such individuals to become citizens of our country through military service or dedication to an area of study. Without something like the DREAM Act, we are essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater, in our unfair treatment of dedicated kids who are American citizens in every way save paperwork. The argument that it rewards people for illegal immigration doesn’t stand well either, seeing as it is silly to assume a person could not properly evaluate the chance they would take from having to live in the U.S. for a length of time, in order to give their child a chance.

Overall, I think the DREAM Act is a good policy tool, which will help our country to keep enterprising young people in the United States and allow them to benefit our country through service. While I can agree to the fact that it is a piecemeal measure in terms of dealing with the entire issue of immigration, I also see it as a stepping stone to larger measures of reform. There is simply no good reason, in my view, to alienate bright young minds that want to be a part of this country.

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