All I Have to Do Is Dream

Mickey Kaus has an op-ed in the Washington Post questioning the prudence of simply legalizing the admission to the United States of every youthful illegal immigrant. After noting how skewed the portrayal of these young illegal immigrants has been he observes:

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 (R-Ark.) 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.

The profile of the “Dreamers” in the study cited by Mr. Kaus is very interesting and may be quite different than is imagined. If the study is to be believed, the typical “Dreamer” is a Mexican national, residing in one of just four states, working, earning less than $11 per hour, officially living in poverty, and lying about being in school (the number claiming to be in school far exceeds the estimates of the actual numbers).

Just as a reminder my position is that Congress should enact legislation granting some sort of legal status to at least some fraction, that the legislation should have some standards, and that the standards should be enforced.

2 comments… add one
  • Andy

    I do think most of the Dreamers should be granted at least a green card, but it needs to be part of a broader reform that won’t allow more dreamers to be created in the future. I just don’t see it happening, but I’m cynical on this subject.

  • mike shupp

    Mumble mumble mumble. Look, the USA gets a lot of immigrants, legal or otherwise, because the US is viewed as a wealthy nation where poor people from other nations can come and improve their lives — not just “a wealthy nation” but “THE most wealthy nation.”

    At some point, that’s going to change. Not in five years, not in ten, but … There’ll be a day when, let’s say, single women from Nigeria spend their vacations in China hoping to catch the eyes of wealthy unattached Chinese males, would-be entrepreneurs from Iran sneak across borders to get into India, and so on.

    We aren’t always going to be a magnet for immigration, in other words, but the world that lies ahead is probably going to be dominated by affluent highly populated states. Come 2075 or 2099, we might be sorry that in the early part of the 21st century we passed up the opportunity to get a hundred million or two immigrants.

    mumble mumble mumble. It’s a thought, anyhow.

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