Salam On DREAM.

Reihan Salam has delivered an uncharacteristically weak response to Michael Gerson on the DREAM Act:

As I understand it, the DREAM Act implicitly tells us that I should value the children of unauthorized immigrants more than the children of other people living in impoverished countries. If we assume that all human beings merit equal concern, this is obviously nonsensical. Indeed, all controls on migration are suspect under that assumption.

Assuming that we should value, in some abstract sense, "all human beings equally," doesn't actually bear on whether the U.S. government has obligations toward people residing within its borders, in particular those here through no fault of their own. Of course, Salam presumably understands that, because he writes:

Even so, there is a broad consensus that the United States has a right to control its borders, and that the American polity can decide who will be settle in the United States. This means that we are departing the terrain of moralistic theorizing and entering the terrain of deciding what is best for U.S. citizens and, perhaps, lawful permanent residents.

So what was the point of the preceding paragraph? General railing against those bleeding hearts who propose incremental legislation that would nevertheless help a large number of obviously deserving people based on what's politically possible, because they're not helping every deserving human being on Earth at the same time?

After perusing the study in question, I was impressed by the heroic assumptions made regarding the labor market prospects of potential Dream Act beneficiaries, particularly for those with no more than a high school diploma or a GED certificate. One assumes that the beneficiaries will eventually age, and draw on Social Security and Medicare, leaving aside other social services. Once we factor in real-world estimates of these and other costs, including the costs associated with the children of Dream Act beneficiaries, I assume that we'll be left with a positive net number.

Salam is misreading the bill's eligibility requirements. The DREAM Act grants conditional status to those who meet certain standards. The "conditional" part of conditional status in previous versions of the bill rested on those same people either serving in the military for two years or completing two years of college within six years, all while staying out of legal trouble. Just having a GED or high school diploma wasn't enough to secure permanent legal residency, even in previous, more generous iterations.

In the current version of the bill, conditional status lasts for a decade, followed by three years of legal permanent residency prior to being able to apply for citizenship. During that time, they have to complete two years of college, two years of military service, then maintain continuous employment, avoid getting into any trouble with the law, not take public assistance, and not receive a dishonorable discharge. So the assumptions aren't all that "heroic" when you consider that anyone who doesn't meet a fairly strict set of standards gets booted out of the country, unless DHS grants them a waiver. Staying out of trouble also isn't enough this time around -- to be eligible you have to have not been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors during the entire time you've been here.That's the Senate version of the bill. 

The new House version, Gregory Chen from the American Immigration Law Association points out to me, requires applicants to meet the education or military requirements within five years or place their conditional status in peril. 

Again, it's not obvious that Dream Act beneficiaries are the only ambitious human beings with hands and brains. By my rough calculation, there are roughly 6 billion of them, give or take a few billion scofflaws. There are hundreds of thousands of such ambitious human beings who apply for the diversity visa lottery in countries across the world. I imagine that many of their children are great people too.

Once we enter the realm of justifying the Dream Act on grounds of the supposed economic impact, it seems fairly clear that there are alternatives that will prove more advantageous to the U.S.

I can imagine a decent argument for the Dream Act, e.g., it is a wedge strategy designed to begin the process of earned legalization for the large population of unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States, and we don't have the will or the resources for a serious campaign of attrition or repatriation. That's fair. But it's not the kind of moral argument that Gerson is making.

Since Salam has already implied he understands the relative difference in obligation the U.S. government has to people actually within its borders, I'm not sure why he's making this argument. The fact that we currently have a poorly designed immigration system is not a reason not to provide this particular subgroup of immigrants with a path to citizenship, nor does the former preclude pursuit of a more sensible comprehensive immigration policy. In fact, most of the activists supporting the DREAM Act have just that in mind.

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