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With fixing, DREAM Act could still come true

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
December 23, 2010 4:26 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It’s a shame the DREAM Act failed in the closing days of Congress even as other major bipartisan measures made it through under the wire.

But a few strategic revisions to the bill would give it a better chance of succeeding, even after Republicans take over the House in January.

The idea behind the DREAM Act is to offer legal residency – and citizenship, far down the road – to young illegal aliens on condition that they serve in the military or make substantial headway in college.

As a matter of humanity, a 20-year-old whose parents smuggled her across the border at, say, age 3 shouldn’t be set packing to a “native” country whose language she can’t speak and whose culture is foreign to her.

The current form of the bill rebuts most of the complaints about earlier versions.
It is not “back door amnesty” for 1.2 million illegal aliens. The number of young people likely to qualify is much lower. An in-depth analysis by the Migration Policy Institute concludes that only about 260,000 of those eligible would make it all the way to permanent legal status under the bill.

The bill creates high hurdles. The college requirement would screen out many of the poor. An English proficiency requirement would screen out those who can’t speak it.

The bill applies only to migrants who can prove they’ve already lived in the United States five years. Not newcomers.

The military option should need no defending: Honorable military service is a time-honored route to citizenship.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the current bill would increase government revenues by $2.3 billion by 2020. In normal times – which will return – the economy benefits greatly from highly skilled and well-educated workers.

Three further revisions could improve the bill’s political prospects.

The college requirement could require a four-year degree or a technical education of similar rigor.

As written, the bill would apply to anyone brought across the border under the age of 16. A 15-year-old is no stranger to his or her homeland. A lower age would be easier to defend.
Under the current bill, an illegal immigrant remains eligible for legal status after two misdemeanors.

But details count when it comes to crime. A shoplifting incident at age 14 is one thing; a pattern of criminal behavior when older is another.

Were the misdemeanors for brawling, domestic violence, gang activity or gun violations? Were they pleaded down from felonies? Is there an arrest record that points toward frequent troubles with the law? It makes a difference.

Tightening the bill would assure the public that it isn’t a gimmick for legalizing as many people as possible – and help it win passage in a more conservative Congress.

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