AGORA DEBATE: Is DREAM Act American Nightmare?

In this weeks battle of the minds, TNH Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros takes on Dan Georgakas, a noted American anarchist scholar and historian, over the Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) which would allow conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bills enactment.
If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period. They could also qualify for permanent residency by meeting more stringent conditions
It has triggered volatile debate over the greater question of American immigration policy, especially regarding the vast numbers of illegal who want to live in the U.S. with Congressman Steve King of Iowa creating another flash point with some pointed comments.
Here’s the take of TNH’s analysts:

SCAROS: King Scores Points

Dan, Congressman Steve King of Iowa has gotten himself into a heap of trouble – heavily rebuked not only by Latinos, not only by Democrats, but also by his fellow Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner – for suggesting that for every young person brought to the United States illegally by his or her parents that is a high school valedictorian, “There’s another 100 out there, that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” If interpreted to mean that a Mexican is 100 times more likely to be a drug smuggler than a valedictorian, the statement is certainly fraught with racial overtones.
But before we as a nation rush to yet another politically correct knee-jerk reaction to a statement that possibly though not indisputably was rooted in racism, let us not allow emotions to get in the way of uncovering the facts.
First, the targets of King’s comments are the DREAMers, i.e., the potential beneficiaries of Congress’ proposed DREAM Act, formally known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011. The Act is often described as being necessary because of truly innocent victims – small children that were brought here by their parents illegally – which have lived in the United States their entire lives, and now, on the cusp of adulthood, after having excelled in primary and secondary schooling, would like to fulfill their dream of graduating from college and remaining pillars in the community for years to come.
A closer reading of the Act, however, unveils that it pertains to a considerably broader range of beneficiaries. A 15 year-old gang member from Mexico, Greece, or any foreign country for that matter, shoots and kills a rival gang member, and then flees the country to avoid prosecution. He enters the United States illegally and remains under the radar, doing honest work as a busboy or day laborer and staying out of trouble with the law. Though he never went to school in the United States, he passes a proficiency exam at age 18 (an extremely watered-down version of the SAT) that allows him – just like tens of thousands of other young adults who dropped out of high school and never even earned a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) – to be admitted to one of the countless proprietary colleges throughout the United States. That person, who three years ago committed murder, would qualify under the DREAM Act. The Act’s requirement that the person be of “good moral character” is limited to “since the date the alien initially entered the United States.” Anything before that apparently gets a pass.
It is cases like that to which Congressman King was referring when he prefaced his “cantaloupe” comment with “they weren’t all brought in by their parents.”
Although I do not have exact statistics to support this, I rely on my tried-and-true theory that when examining the various subdivisions of the human race, there are far more “good apples” than “bad apples.” Accordingly, I have no doubts that the majority of illegal aliens in the United States are not murderers, or even marijuana smugglers. To the extent that King implied that, he is wrong, and the backlash against him is well-deserved.
On the other hand, the majority of them are not valedictorians, either. They are just average folks, like the majority of their American-born counterparts. Some might be high school dropouts, or might have barely graduated with a low C average. Some might drink and drive, serve probation for vandalism, or simply loaf around the house disinterested in doing anything productive: just like many of their American-born counterparts whose ancestors came from Europe many decades ago.
Should the DREAM Act be limited to valedictorians and other overachievers, or should it include any young illegal alien that has not committed a felony? At the very least, King’s controversial comments point to the fact that there is more – or less – to the DREAM Act than meets the eye.

GEORGAKAS: Dont Forget Your Roots

Dino, I think you are far too generous regarding Congressman King. His comments about Latinos are vulgar racism calculated to gain extremist votes. Rhetoric of this kind poisons the nature of political discourse.
Imagine our reaction if during the period of intense Greek immigration some xenophobic Congressman proclaimed that Greek immigrants think they are the children of Plato and Aristotle, but they are just discarded Ottoman riffraff.
I agree with you that the Latino immigrant wave has about the same ratio of achievers and non-achievers as previous waves. Your questions about the DREAM Act also make sense. No legislation is ever perfect, but rational discourse, not racist rhetoric, is the pathway to producing better legislation.
The presence of illegals in immigrant waves is not unusual. In his Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, the late Charles Moskos noted that just between 1957-1964 over 30,000 Greek seamen jumped ship in American ports.
To that number might be added many others that managed other illegal entries or stayed in America after their visas had expired. Ultimately, such “illegals” generally found a legitimate place in a community that is now considered a model for other immigrants. Latino illegals will likely follow the same pattern.
We need only look to Greece to see the ultimate consequences of vindictive rhetoric and the absence of a coherent immigration policy.
The number of illegals in the United States is proportionally much smaller. Moreover, our immigrants see the United States as a destination, not a way station to another nation. That said, concentrations of illegals inevitably create serious social problems.
The chief virtue of the DREAM Act is that it addresses a complex aspect of the new immigrant dynamic. Why should young adults illegally brought to this country when they were children be punished for the acts of their parents? Clearly, as indicated by the valedictorians that strongly support the DREAM Act, America has given these immigrants educational opportunities unavailable in their native lands.
Is it not short-sighted to prevent them from becoming citizens of the country in which they were raised and whose language they speak?
Much hostility to the DREAM Act would abate if part of the process of getting on a fast track to citizenship required two years of public service. This service would involve general community development or assistance in restoration work, such as that needed in the wake of natural disasters.
By this public service, those benefiting would have demonstrated their commitment to the United States and not simply a desire to access the opportunities at hand once their status is legalized.
I think there must be real penalties for the parents. Otherwise, they will have been rewarded for breaking the law. An annual financial payment (consider it payback geared to income) that is not onerous but not a token amount may be such a measure.
Whatever the penalty, such a provision and a public service obligation for their children would make future illegals think more carefully about following a similar strategy.
That reforms in immigration policy are imperative is obvious to all. The DREAM Act, if carefully crafted, could be a positive step forward in commencing those much-needed reforms.