Don’t buy all the PR about ‘dream­ers’

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - OPINION - Cour­tesy of The Wash­ing­ton Post

Who wants to de­port “dream­ers”? Not many peo­ple, it turns out. Even vet­eran im­mi­gra­tion re­stric­tion­ists seem will­ing to le­gal­ize this sub­set of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants if it is part of a pack­age deal. That’s true even though a lot of what’s said about the dream­ers is PRstyle hooey.

For ex­am­ple, it’s of­ten said — in­deed, for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama just re­cently said — that the ap­prox­i­mately 690,000 dream­ers were “brought to this coun­try by their par­ents.” Well, many were. But that’s not re­quired to qual­ify as a pro­tected dreamer un­der the var­i­ous plans, in­clud­ing Obama’s. You just have to have en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally be­fore age 16. You could have de­cided to sneak in against your par­ents’ wishes. You’re still a dreamer!

Like­wise, we’re told dream­ers are col­lege-bound high school grads or mil­i­tary per­son­nel. That’s an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. All that’s ac­tu­ally re­quired is that the dreamer en­roll in a high school course or an “al­ter­na­tive,” in­clud­ing on­line cour­ses and English-as-asec­ond-lan­guage classes. Un­der Obama’s now-sus­pended pro­gram, you didn’t even have to stay en­rolled.

Com­pared with the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, dream­ers are not es­pe­cially highly skilled. A re­cent sur­vey for sev­eral pro­dreamer groups, with par­tic­i­pants re­cruited by those groups, found that while most dream­ers are not in school, the vast ma­jor­ity work. But their me­dian hourly wage is only $15.34, mean­ing that many are com­pet­ing with hard-pressed lower-skilled Amer­i­cans.

The dream­ers you read about have typ­i­cally been care­fully se­lected for their ap­peal. They’re vale­dic­to­ri­ans. They’re first re­spon­ders. They’re cur­ing dis­eases. They root for the Yan­kees. They want to serve in the Army. If dream­ers are the poster chil­dren for the much larger un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion, th­ese are the poster chil­dren for the poster chil­dren.

Still, tak­ing the dream­ers as a whole, not just the dreami­est of them, they rep­re­sent an ap­peal­ing group of would-be cit­i­zens. So why not show com­pas­sion and le­gal­ize them? Be­cause, as is of­ten the case, the pur­suit of pure com­pas­sion comes with harm­ful side ef­fects.

First, it would cre­ate per­verse incentives. Can you imag­ine a stronger in­cen­tive for il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion than the idea that if you sneak into the coun­try your kids will get to be U.S. cit­i­zens? Sure, the pro­tec­tions don’t cur­rently ap­ply to re­cent en­trants — un­der Obama’s plan, you had to have come be­fore 2007. But those dates can be changed — Obama him­self tried to do it once. And the ra­tio­nale for re­ward­ing those who ar­rive when young — that they’re here through “no fault of their own” and know only Amer­ica, etc. — can ap­ply on into the fu­ture, with no ap­par­ent stop­ping point. What about the poor kids who came in 2008? 2018? There’s a rea­son no coun­try has a rule that if you sneak in as a mi­nor, you’re a ci­ti­zen. We’d be invit­ing the world.

Sec­ond, it would have knock-on ef­fects. Un­der “chain mi­gra­tion” rules es­tab­lished in 1965 — iron­i­cally as a sop to con­ser­va­tives, who fool­ishly thought that they’d boost Euro­pean in­flows — new cit­i­zens can bring in their sib­lings and adult chil­dren, who can bring in their sib­lings and in-laws, un­til whole vil­lages have moved to the United States. That means to­day’s 690,000 dream­ers would quickly be­come mil­lions of newcomers, who may well be low-skilled and who would al­most cer­tainly include the par­ents who brought them — the ones who, in the­ory, are at fault.

There are ob­vi­ous, sen­si­ble ways to con­trol th­ese side ef­fects. Pair any dreamer amnesty with a ma­jor up­grade to our sys­tem to pre­vent a new un­doc­u­mented wave - such as a manda­tory ex­ten­sion of E-Ver­ify, the sys­tem that lets em­ploy­ers check on the le­gal sta­tus of hires. Cur­tail the right to bring in dis­tant rel­a­tives. Sen. Tom Cot­ton, RArk., has pro­posed such a com­pro­mise — and it would be easy to com­pro­mise on his com­pro­mise, say by cut­ting back on chain mi­gra­tion only by the num­ber of peo­ple that the new Dream Act adds to the cit­i­zenry. The pres­i­dent could de­clare a one-time act of mercy for those who came here dur­ing the pre-Trump Era of Lax­ity, but make clear the game was changed for fu­ture en­trants.

Why wouldn’t Democrats jump at such a deal? For years they’ve been tout­ing “com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form,” a mix of amnesty with stepped-up en­force­ment to pre­vent an­other un­doc­u­mented surge. But the Dream Act is un­com­pre­hen­sive. It’s all amnesty, no pre­ven­tion — let alone any com­pen­sat­ing re­duc­tion in le­gal in­flows. It’s hard to avoid the thought that Democrats (and Repub­li­cans who sup­port the Dream Act) aren’t re­ally in­ter­ested in pre­vent­ing il­le­gal in­flows. They’re not in­clined to take Cot­ton up on his deal be­cause they don’t think they have to.

If they win, we’ll get the com­pas­sion with­out deal­ing with its con­se­quences. That would be es­pe­cially un­for­tu­nate given the signs that Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion crack­down, sim­ply step­ping up en­force­ment of cur­rent laws, is al­ready help­ing to tighten the low end of the la­bor mar­ket and boost wages of lowskilled work­ers. News or­ga­ni­za­tion­sare fea­tur­ingsto­ries­fromem­ploy­ers who aren’t get­ting their usual sup­ply of un­doc­u­mented work­ers and are forced to take rad­i­cal mea­sures — such as rais­ing wages. Proof of this con­nec­tion, in the pub­lic mind, may be what ter­ri­fies the pro-im­mi­gra­tion lobby the most.

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If dream­ers are the poster chil­dren for the much larger un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion, th­ese are the poster chil­dren for the poster chil­dren.

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PHOTO / JACK KRAMER

Con­necti­cut Stu­dents for a Dream out­side the House cham­ber

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