Do you remember the scene in Annie Hall where the characters are arguing about Marshall McLuhan. Then Woody Allen pulls McLuhan from behind a curtain and announces: “I have him right here”?
I feel a little that way this morning about my online debate with Will Wilkinson about the proposed DREAM law. So there I am yesterday, halfway through a lengthy debunking of Wilkinson’s cheery reassurances about the DREAM act when … but I’ll let Politico tell the story from here.
Senate Democrats have introduced their fifth version of the DREAM Act this year in a bid to tackle concerns from critics and win support from a handful of moderate lawmakers from both parties.
Sure looks like the authors of the bill agree with me, not Wilkinson, about what the previous versions of the law would have done.
The latest version, filed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) late Tuesday night, would bar illegal immigrants from receiving in-state college tuition; drops the age of eligibility to 29 from 34; would not grant permanent legal status to anyone for at least 10 years; would restrict eligibility for those who commit certain misdemeanor crimes; and would limit individuals from being able to sponsor family members for U.S. citizenship, among other changes.
Those who receive conditional legal status under the DREAM Act also would be ineligible for Medicaid, food stamps and other government-funded benefits.
In other words: yes it was true (sorry Will!) that previous versions of the DREAM act offered amnesty to the illegal immigrant parents of DREAM beneficiaries. Yes it was true (sorry again!) that the bill offered large subsidies to people currently present in the country illegally. Yes it was true (sorry once more!) that the legal language about “good character” didn’t mean very much. And yes it was true (sorry a fourth time!) that the bill potentially applied to many more people than the 60,000 or so Wilkinson mentioned in his very first post.
The good news is that the fixes offered by the Democrats constitute a genuine improvement in the law that address the concerns whose reality Wilkinson was denying just the day before yesterday. And with a few more improvements, the law could be on its way to being a genuine humanitarian measure.
Here would be my three main suggestions:
1) Lower the age of entry into the US. Even the new versions of the law extend amnesty to people who entered the US up to age 16. That allows too many people who entered on their own impetus rather than as part of a family group – and too many people whose first language will never be English. I’d lower to 12, to ensure we really are talking about children who have spent half or more of their lives in the US.
2) False statements in the application should be prosecutable. As written, lying on the forms is still a good one-way option: it might help, and it can’t hurt.
3) For those who choose enlistment rather than college, I’d require honorable discharge rather than 2 years service as a prerequisite for regularization. For those who choose college rather than enlistment, I’d like to see some measure- I’m not sure how to write such a rule myself – to prevent the emergence of a huge industry of fly by night institutions that will enroll (and keep enrolled) all paying customers regardless of how terribly they perform. As the law is now written, that last is an all too likely consequence.
With those changes, DREAM could be genuinely useful as part of a package of immigration reforms that should also include the following:
1) Employers should be held strictly liable for employment of illegal aliens – ie “I didn’t know” should no longer be an excuse, just as “I didn’t know” is not an excuse for violations of the clean air and clean water laws. At the same time, we should remove prison as a possible punishment and substitute tougher fines. It’s more important that punishment be certain than that it be draconian: the goal is to raise the projected cost of using illegal labor and thus incentivize the employment of legal labor instead.
2) A sense of the Congress’ resolution against a general amnesty for illegal aliens, to dispel any illusions generated by the past decade of amnesty activism. The goal again is to change the incentive structure by sending clear messages about what can be expected in future.