It’s time for speculation in Washington. And the question on everyone’s mind is what exactly Congress will do during the Lame Duck session?
The DREAM Act has been talked about as one possibility. In September, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D–NV) attempted (and failed) to incorporate the DREAM Act into the Defense Authorization Bill. However, Reid has a big incentive to try to push forward with passage before the end of the year. He promised to bring the act up for a vote during his hotly contested Senate reelection campaign earlier this year and needs to deliver.
The DREAM Act can best be described as giving conditional lawful permanent resident status to those illegal aliens who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, have been in the country for at least five years and agree to attend college/serve in the military. An additional provision, often overlooked, would grant illegal aliens in-state tuition rates at public universities.
There is a big reason why the DREAM Act was a campaign promise for Reid, the same reason the White House recently hosted high-level meetings with members of the Hispanic caucus regarding the bill and has expressed so much interest in passing it: The act would be an amnesty for millions of illegal aliens inside the United States. This is something the White House and Reid have been desperately seeking through a comprehensive immigration bill, but has yet to gain traction in Congress.
Amnesty has never been a good way to solve the illegal immigration problem—whether through the DREAM Act or a mass legalization. As we learned in the 1986 amnesty, doing so simply encourages more individuals to break the law and enter the United States illegally. Among several other concerns, the DREAM Act rewards those who violated immigration laws by granting them in-state tuition while state laws deny legal aliens on student visas tuition benefits. The act’s lax standards would make it tough to police for fraudulent applicants, while the government would be prohibited using information submitted to deport anyone who files a DREAM Act application and does not qualify.
If Reid moves forward, the DREAM Act debate will almost certainly be filled with nice anecdotes about college education, military service, and additional tax revenues. Don’t be misled. Despite these seemingly humanitarian aims, the White House and Reid know what the DREAM Act debate it really about—finding a way to avoid the law and legalize illegal immigrants inside the United States. Packing amnesty in pretty paper doesn’t mean it isn’t still an amnesty. Congress and the White House need to focus instead on reforms to the immigration system that will enforce the law, maintain security, and promote the economy. Such a system requires robust enforcement of immigration laws inside the U.S., a secure border, reforms in the visa system, and cooperation with Mexico and other appropriate countries on law enforcement/public safety issues as well as free market initiatives.