Commentary on immigration often gets it wrong
As is the case with most hot-button political issues, opposition to the proposed federal DREAM Act and Florida’s new in-state tuition law for undocumented students is being fueled by misinformation and selective use of facts.
The uproar comes from many prominent media commentators and organizations repeating common fears and complaints about undocumented residents.
The new Florida law, which took effect July 1, grants in-state tuition to DREAMers at state colleges and universities. Critics say HB 851 gives “illegal aliens” who have attended public schools “a handout.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a conservatively funded non-profit, opposed the new Florida law.
“[Granting in-state tuition is] putting the advantage on those who broke the law,” said FAIR spokesperson Ira Mehlman.
But David Abraham, a University of Miami professor who specializes in immigration law, said many undocumented immigrants have a Social Security number and pay taxes.
“They’ve put into the [fund] . . .. If the argument is supposed to be that ‘they haven’t put anything into the [fund] why should they be taking out of the [fund],’ that argument is factually false,” Abraham said.
HB 851 proponents say it is a step forward but not a total solution to the challenges DREAMers face. While many of the college-age DREAMers appreciate a less costly path to degrees, they mostly want one thing: American citizenship.
According to the author of the stalled DREAM Act, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), the first version of the DREAM Act in 2001 would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented children who grew up attending U.S. schools. But repeatedly, the DREAM Act failed in Congress due to strong conservative opposition.
Many outspoken conservatives were angered that the DREAM Act would require spending tax dollars, cost American jobs and deprive public universities of the application fees and out-of-state tuition DREAMers are required to pay in more than half the states.
FAIR has argued that support for the DREAM Act is only generated by a one-sided emotional connection to the students who would be affected.
“It’s easy to put a face to those on the receiving end, but hard to identify those who lost [jobs] because of it,” Mehlman said.
But a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond concluded that due to long-term changes in the economy, it would have no inherent negative effects on future unemployment.
It is also wrong to suggest that all these applicants would be added to the workforce in such a short period of time, the study found. Many undocumented students are under the employment age, and others are already in the workforce.
Lou Dobbs, a Fox News anchor, said in an interview with conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly that the DREAM Act would be the catalyst for a “chain migration.”
“It is bringing in family members into the line, if you were to give a path to legalization to young people,” Dobbs said.
But Abraham, the UM professor, disputed that as well.
“There’s no rush of people waiting across the border for [DREAMers] to open the door for them,” he said. “That’s just factually incorrect.”
The number of years in school required and the expense to meet conditional non-immigrant status would delay any massive migration, he said.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also argued that the DREAM Act was too lenient in not requiring DREAMers to earn a degree.
The DREAM Act does state, however, that to remain in the United States, DREAMers must complete two years in a university or college. It also requires that the applicant have a high school degree or GED.
“The DREAM Act provides a safe harbor for any alien, including criminals, from being removed or deported if they simply submit an application,” Sessions said.
But the DREAM Act requires that to be eligible, applicants must have arrived without criminal convictions. Applicants also would be ineligible if they have committed a serious misdemeanor or felony in the United States and an extensive background check process is outlined in the act.
Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio commentator, has repeatedly contended on his daily broadcasts that the DREAM Act would create “amnesty for 800,000 young illegals.”
Legal experts say this has contributed to confusion about the definition of amnesty. The DREAM Act would only grant preferential status to those who apply, allowing them a 10-year path to citizenship. The experts say amnesty moves them to the front of the line, while preferential status allows them to get into the line.