Thursday, December 9, 2010


You have heard of the DREAM ACT, and you know it has to do with illegal “aliens.” But a quick, highly NON-scientific poll of my co-workers and friends tells me that the average American is not paying much attention to this highly controversial piece of legislation. The House of Representatives approved it and the Senate is iffy about it at best. So far, the Senate has only delayed its discussion of it until next week sometime.

In brief, here is what the DREAM ACT is about: DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. Essentially, if you are a kid who is not in the U.S. legally, you may be able to gain permanent residency if you have been here for five years before the ACT is passed, and if you serve two years in the military and go to college at a four-year institution for at least two years. All of that nets you a six year pass to stay in the U.S. Within those six years you must either earn a bachelor’s degree or receive an honorable discharge from the U.S. military. If you do not meet the requirements, the U.S. government has the option to return you to the immigration status you had before the ACT was passed.

Critics come from all directions. First, they say, if someone is here illegally, why did they not go through the necessary process to become a U.S. citizen, if they planned all along to stay? Further, some critics argue that forcing people from other countries into the U.S. military makes no sense because once they get there many
of them will not feel a strong commitment to protecting the U.S. When a version of this bill was first introduced nine years ago, our all-volunteer army was in big trouble finding enough people to serve. That is not exactly true right now, so critics see no justification. Others point to a stipulation in the bill that requires you to be “of good moral character.” According to whom, they ask? What if my interpretation of “good moral character” is more or less stringent than yours? Somebody needs to define this, they argue.

Well, the truth is it is defined by our immigration laws, but the definition only refers to what the immigrant cannot do or be. For example, they cannot be involved in prostitution, money laundering, illicit traffic of controlled substances or passport fraud. The list is very long. No felonies, no gambling, no tax evasion or alien smuggling and definitely no child pornography or polygamy, and that’s just for starters. By my count, there are three dozen such stipulations. I’m left to wonder how many born-in-the-USA 18-year-olds could measure up to all of the requirements. After all, one thing that can keep you out is “being a habitual drunkard.” How do you define “drunkard,” and would our college campuses be pretty empty if that were a requirement for 18-year-old Americans? Just asking.
Listen to the two sides make their case:

At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I would point out that in the early 1900s when the great immigration movement was happening and thousands were coming through Ellis Island,(below, right) our country saw this as an issue of humanity, rather than one of politics. Immigrants largely left their countries to escape persecution, racial prejudice and religious intolerance, among other issues. The U.S., which was founded and nurtured by immigrants, welcomed them. We were a destination and a source of hope. The best of multiple cultures contributed to the culture that we are today.

Evidently a century can rewire our civic brains. Today a great number of Americans are afraid of illegal immigrants. Political ads from the recent election showed thugs breaking through fences in the dark of night, suggesting that this is the true profile of every person who comes into the U.S. Critics ask – and rightfully so – why shouldn’t we enforce immigration laws as they stand right now? Agreed, but if an 18-year-old kid grew up here with his parents who came in illegally, and is therefore classified as an illegal alien, whose fault is that?
Not his or hers. It is the fault of the parents and a government who was lax on enforcing existing laws. What the DREAM ACT says, in essence, is that we get that. It says that we know you did not create this situation, and we’re giving you an opportunity to stay here lawfully, but you have to meet some tough criteria. In other words, you can have your freedom, but you must earn it. That sounds pretty American to me.

I suggest we need to get over this extreme paranoia about human beings who were not born within our borders. Being born in Tijuana or Toronto or Brasil or Guatamala does not mean one is a degenerate person. Being in the country illegally at age 18 does not mean one is here simply to take advantage of government assistance, welfare or free health care. We were a reasonable nation with strong values about the sanctity of human welfare. We were highly respected as such. We are not terribly respected globally at this moment. Denying people from other nations a chance to live freely and productively and explore their own potential will do nothing to enhance our worldwide reputation.

In my book, humanity trumps politics, but it is politicians who will make this decision for all of us. So, I suggest you speak up and let your voice be heard. It’s up to the Senate now, and you need to call your senators and stand up for humanity. Not sure how to reach him or her? Click here and then click on “State” to find full contact information for your senator(s). Do it now and you could contribute to enhancing or even saving countless lives.

No comments: