DREAM Act 2011: Amnesthetize the Kids

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act by acronym junkies, is pending in both houses of Congress. It is bipartisan legislation to help worthy young people who were brought to the United States as minors by undocumented parents. These young people are in a legal quandary: They are otherwise law-abiding, but have no way to achieve legal residence here. At the same time, they have little or no connection with their so-called national origins. It is unfair to call them illegal immigrants, since they were brought here at an age at which they had no choice in the matter. The DREAM Act would cure the legal status of young adults who have proven their value as potential citizens.

The DREAM Act would create a new status for aliens who qualify, conditional permanent residency. Young adults who came to the United States before age 16, at least five years before the date of enactment of the bill, might qualify. They would need to show that they have maintained good moral character and have a high school diploma or GED or have been accepted for admission by a college. Applicants would not qualify if they had committed crimes, were a security risk, or were removable for grounds other than lack of legal status. Conditional permanent resident status would be similar to lawful permanent resident status, except that it would be limited in duration.

We allow a vigorous underground economy to flourish. We employ low-wage undocumented workers and pay them under the table. We look the other way as unscrupulous employers bait the trap, then screech about how undocumented immigrants are breaking the law. We punish vulnerable workers, while the meat-packers, restaurants, and department stores that employ them barely get a tap on the wrist when they are caught.

Policing borders and building fences do not form an immigration policy. They are knee-jerk reactions to address a legislative need to pass laws, even if ineffectual. Exclusion does not work for drugs and it fails at controlling undocumented immigrants.

One answer is tougher sanctions for employers who flout the law. Another is a reasonable amnesty policy. Let us do something constructive, instead of whining about the problem.

Among other injustices, we punish immigrants from some countries, but welcome them from others. For years, anyone from Cuba who washed up on our shore was welcomed because he or she came from an undemocratic hellhole, but anyone from Haiti was sent back to that undemocratic hellhole. Where is the justice in that? Furthermore, entering the country illegally is not the same as killing a party store cashier or whacking a snitch.

“Illegal” residents who were brought here at an early age and have progressed through our schools successfully are given a raw deal. Despite having a high school diploma, or even a college degree, they are not permitted to seek employment legally. This is a huge waste of resources.

California is moving in the right direction. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation in July that allows universities to give private financial aid to undocumented students. Another bill that is awaiting the governor’s signature would allow undocumented students access to public financial aid. We need national legislation to give these students legal status so that they can contribute to our national prosperity.

Inhumane and unwise laws against undocumented residents like those of Arizona and Alabama are a travesty. Residents who were brought here as minors are not law-breakers and usually have no ties to the countries from which they were brought. Most of them are fluent in both spoken and written American. They would be excellent workers and citizens. Foreign nationals who entered the country at an early age, who have no criminal history, and who have achieved a high school education should be offered at least a work permit, if not citizenship. That would be a fair policy and it would benefit all concerned. Stop punishing the innocent. Give them status in the country they call home. Amnesthetize the kids. Urge Congress to move forward on the DREAM Act.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2011 John B. Payne, Attorney

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