What should the Democrats do with their final weeks of majority status in the House of Representatives?
Should they work to renew middle-income tax cuts, as promised? Should they begin to act on the recommendations of the president's deficit reduction commission? Or should they ignite a massive unwinnable fight over amnesty for illegal aliens?
If you guessed the third option, congratulations: You qualify for a job on the staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid survived the 2010 election in great part due to the votes of Nevada Latinos. As a thank you, he announced last week that he would reintroduce the so-called DREAM Act in the lame-duck session of Congress.
The DREAM Act cannot pass. It's not meant to pass. It's not meant even to come to a vote. It's meant to mobilize and excite Latino voters in advance of 2012. It's a ruse and a sham. But it's also an appalling, deceptive piece of legislation with very sinister consequences. So let's take it seriously for a minute and consider what it would do.
DREAM purports to be a humanitarian measure on behalf of young Latinos who were brought to this country as children. Here for example is what The Economist’s blogger Will Wilkinson has to say about DREAM: "Suppose your parents moved to America from Mexico without legal permission when you were five years old. You grow up in America. You graduate from high school in America. You're an American in every sense except the legal one. You want to go to college, but because your parents came into the country illicitly, you don't qualify for government financial aid, and you can't get legal work. If caught by immigration authorities, you face the possibility of detention or deportation, even though this is, in every sense, your home. That doesn't seem fair. Every year, over 60,000 kids like you graduate high school in the United States. And unless something like the DREAM Act becomes law, you and they will become part of a growing class of marginalized and unprotected Americans without papers. Even then, the papers are no sure thing. You've got to serve in the military or get a couple years of college under your belt, and stay out of trouble. But at least you'll someday have the chance to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as your date to the prom."
Well that seems compassionate! And it's only a small group of people we're talking about, right? Just 60,000 a year.
Wrong. Hugely wrong.
Let me give some alternative scenarios, all of which would become possible if the DREAM Act were enacted.
Possibility No. 1: You are an illegal alien who entered the country at age 21, too old to qualify for DREAM. You’ve been apprehended and are threatened with deportation. What to do? Simple — using falsified papers, you file an application under DREAM anyway. Filing an application immediately halts deportation proceedings.
Wait a minute, you wonder: won't using false papers get me in trouble? Not a bit. Just the opposite. Even if the fraud is detected and your application is refused, you simply revert to your previous status. In the process, however, you have gained a new legal advantage: DREAM forbids the Department of Homeland Security from using any information in a DREAM application in deportation proceedings. So now you argue that the deportation proceedings are fatally tainted because you have yourself provided DHS with information that they could now use against you.
The ploy might fail. Still: what a great no-risk option!
Possibility No. 2:. You’re a 40-year-old illegal alien who entered the country as an adult. You have a third-grade education. You are barely literate even in Spanish. Your back is bothering you; you are not sure how long you can continue working. Quite frankly, no country on earth would regard you as a desirable immigrant. Don't despair. DREAM can offer you too an amnesty and gain you access to a lifetime of taxpayer-funded disability payments.
You have kids don't you? If they apply successfully under DREAM, they can sponsor you. While some talk about DREAM applicants as "skilled" immigrants, in fact the law's requirements are so lenient that your kids would have to mess up very seriously to forfeit the law's benefits. All they need to do is enroll in some institution of higher learning or the military and survive there for two years. Graduation is not required.
Does that sound expensive? Don't worry: your kids will receive in-state tuition rates and will be eligible for federal student aid.
They're too young for university? Don’t worry: They can file the papers at age 12. As soon as they give notice of their future intent to attend to college or join the military, they immediately receive safe haven.
They don't find military life attractive? If they can show "significant hardship," they can quit before their two years have been fulfilled. Honorable discharge is NOT a requirement under the DREAM law.
They have had a little trouble with the law? Maybe a history of moving violations that put people's lives at risk? So long as they have not been convicted of a serious crime, they're okay.
DREAM is an amnesty not only for the people described by The Economist blogger, but also for all their parents and siblings.
Possibility No. 3. I'm still living in Guatemala, but I'd dearly like to come to the United States. Can DREAM help me?
Si se puede.
DREAM sends a message to every teenager on planet Earth: Come to America. If you enter the United States before age 16, and if you can remain here for five years (or can buy papers that purport to show you have lived here for five years), you're as good as a citizen already. No deportation proceedings. No risk that your application will be used against you. Lenient and subsidized requirements for permanent residency. What's not to love?
And best of all: DREAM stands as an ongoing invitation, forever and ever. DREAM’s benefits extend not only to people who happen NOW to be illegally present inside the United States. DREAM’s benefits will be extended to all those who may enter illegally in future. DREAM's message goes forth to Indonesia, to Egypt, to India, to China, to anywhere where teenagers find $7 an hour more attractive than $7 a day: come now and come early. Don't waste your time acquiring an education before you arrive. We'll subsidize your education right here in America.
It sounds too crazy to be true. Which is why the law won't pass. And why it's so very deeply cynical of Sen. Reid to dangle this false hope before Nevada's — and America's — Latinos.