What Would the DREAM Act Do to Higher Education?

By David North, July 9, 2010

Does the U.S. want to push about two million, mostly not-very-interested-in-education young people into our already overcrowded and under-funded colleges so that they can claim legal status in the U.S., which they now lack?

That's one question that is not asked in a new report on the proposed DREAM Act, a specialized amnesty proposal that relates to people who came to the U.S. illegally before the age of 16.

Discussions of the DREAM Act ("Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors"), of course, focus on immigration policy, and they should. In addition, however, there is a very real education policy question – should we push people who would not otherwise voluntarily attend college into higher education primarily because they want legal status, not because they want to learn?

Isn't that a distortion of what higher education is all about? What would a more or less compulsory attendance policy for the estimated two million beneficiaries do to the educational institutions? To their finances, and those of the taxpayers? To the other students, all voluntary seekers of knowledge? (Or career advancement?)

The report in question, issued yesterday, is entitled "DREAM vs. Reality: An Analysis of Potential DREAM Act Beneficiaries," by Jeanne Batlova and Margie McHugh and published by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The report is useful for several reasons.

First, it underlines the large population that would be covered by the proposal, and confirms numerical estimates first made three years ago by the Center's Steven Camarota. It is interesting to note that this very partial proposed amnesty would cover 2,149,000 people; that is close to the 2.9 million that were involved with what we all thought was a pretty comprehensive legalization program (IRCA's amnesty) 20 years ago.

Second, it breaks out separate estimates, within the 2.1 million, of people who would be eligible for the various subprograms and requirements of the DREAM Act.

Third, it shows that a little amnesty is never enough to satisfy the true believers. One of the authors is quoted in the MPI press release as complaining about the act's provisions, saying, "Many potential DREAM Act beneficiaries would face difficulties in meeting the legislation's higher education or military service requirements because of hardship paying for college tuition, competing work and family time demands and low education attainment and English proficiency."

That may sound like a population that needs schooling, but not one that would likely do well in a college or university. (Were the DREAM Act to pass, a few of the beneficiaries would, of course, do splendidly, and MPI would tell us about their successes.)

The act, generally, would grant a (longish) path to green card status to people who came to the U.S. illegally before 16, at least five years ago, and have obtained a high school diploma or a GED. Those qualifications would make them conditional entrants; to move to green card status they would also need to spend two years in either post-secondary education (including community colleges) or in the military. There appears to be no requirement that anyone finish college.

The act is attractive to mass migration advocates because they do not seem to be doing very well with their broader proposal for "comprehensive immigration reform."