DREAM Act a Low-Risk, High-Return Option

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to consider bills such as the DREAM Act, approved by the House last evening and on tap for a vote in the Senate as early as today.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer legal status to students who came to the United States illegally before they turned 16 and have lived here for more than five years. To gain legal status they would need to complete high school, and then two years of college or military service. Once implemented the act would legalize about 65,000 students a year.

If our immigration policy was more in line with what I’ve been advocating for years, we would not have the large population of illegal immigrants that we do today because more legal alternatives would have been available. And access to in-state tuition would not be such a big deal if our education policies more closely reflected the sound arguments of my colleagues at Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom. Alas, that is not the world we live in yet.

The DREAM Act would improve a less-than-ideal situation by legalizing a population that is primed to live the American dream, and is virtually guaranteed to bestow real blessings on our economy and society.

Critics of the DREAM Act, such as Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), paint these kids as nothing but expensive liabilities and the act as nothing but a backdoor amnesty. Both charges are false.

Young immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act are a low-risk, high-return addition to America. Because they came here at a young age, they almost all speak English fluently and are at home in American society. The fact that they have completed high school and will be attending college makes it likely they and their descendants will pay more in taxes than they consume in government services during their lifetimes. With the U.S. birthrate hovering at the replacement level, these assimilated, immigrant students at the beginning of their careers will help the United States maintain a healthy growth rate in our workforce.

It is wrong to label the DREAM ACT “amnesty.” These kids did nothing wrong. In fact, most of them simply obeyed their parents when the family immigrated to the United States. They should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

The DREAM Act, like most other immigration-related bills, has become charged with partisanship. House Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill last evening, Republicans lopsidedly against. Democratic leaders in Congress are certainly open to the charge that they are using the bill to attract Hispanic voters even though the chances of it passing the Senate and becoming law are, at the moment, slim. But Republicans are open to the more serious charge that they are ignoring the more optimistic and inclusive vision of our country articulated by former President Ronald Reagan.