What's Missing from Immigration Debate?

February 2010

What is missing from today's immigration debate? A simple concept that should not be foreign to anyone's human experience; empathy. A perfect example of this deficit is the cold debate surrounding the Dream Act, a bill composed of uncontroversial humanistic policies.

Consider finding yourself in the following circumstance. Unable to find work to support you and your family, your parents decide to enter the United States without documents. You are three years old. Although you have no say in the matter, your parents make the conscious decision to violate the civil—until this very day, not yet criminal—laws of the United States. E.g., See 8 U.S.C. § 1325&

You attend elementary school, learn to recite the pledge of allegiance, and sing the star spangled banner thousands of times before you reach high school. As a young adult, you are a model student. Despite difficult economic circumstances at home, due to your parent's lack of work authorization, you earn a couple of B's at worst but mostly A's. You adopt American ideals of hard work and sacrifice as virtues that inevitably lead to prosperity. To you, these virtues are self-fulfilling truths. You anxiously plan to pursue higher education, faithfully believing in the promise of these ideals.

Your parent's rent / mortgage payments are used to support at least part of your educational cost through local property taxes, and although they may not file any tax returns, they pay thousands of dollars into a social security insurance system of which they will never see a dime. This, perhaps, is a well deserved penalty for their transgression.

However, when you complete high school in the top third of your class, you discover that the American promise of hard work and sacrifice does not apply to you. You are an undocumented non-citizen, or as others would view it, a less than human "illegal alien," —except that, you've never viewed yourself this way. Instinctively, you've always considered yourself American. Most importantly, in the recesses of your mind you've always held Thomas Jefferson's words dear to your heart.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 1776

This is your plight, along with many other young students who would benefit from the Dream Act. Despite some ill willed attempts to misrepresent the contents of the DREAM ACT, it is a humanist-bipartisan bill that would give a select group of well-deserving students the chance to earn legal status in the United States.

The Dream Act would allow a limited residency for children who:

  • Came to the United States as a child (15 or under);
  • Are long-term U.S. residents (five years or more);
  • Have graduated (or will graduate) from high school or have obtained (or will obtain) a GED;
  • Will serve in the armed services or complete at least two years in an institution of higher learning;
  • Are persons of good moral character; and
  • Are not disqualified from conditional permanent residency based on any fraudulent, criminal activity, or immigration violations, among other disqualifiers.

Other provisions of the Dream Act limit use of tax payers' dollars by:

  • Retaining the State's right to determine tuition for these children as state residents or non residents.
  • Preserving limits on chain migration by maintaining limits on these children's ability to petition family members.

We, as constituents, may demand that our representatives pursue legitimate objectives of punishing adults for their own legal violations. We should even demand that they devise legitimate ways of deterring any further illegal migration. Nonetheless, punishing children who took no conscious part in any violation of our immigration laws serves no legitimate purpose. We should demand that our legislators allow our nation to seize upon the promises of America that is embodied in these children, and uphold the very ideals our nation was founded upon.