New York State's "Dream Act": "Good Character" Equals No Violent Felony Conviction

New York State ranks its felonies from Class A to Class E, with Class A the most serious and Class E the least. Class A felonies are divided into Class A-I and Class A-II and the others are labeled either violent or nonviolent. There also are misdemeanors (Class A or Class B) and violations, the least serious criminal offenses. A complete list is easily obtained and there is a separate list for controlled substance offenses, but let me give some illustrations of the criminality at issue in the proposed New York State Dream Act drawn from the overall list.

Nonviolent felonies in Classes B though D were originally included in the state Dream Act as disqualifying, but they no longer are.

So those covered by the act now will be deemed in compliance with the good character requirement even if they are convicted of any of the following: aggravated vehicular homicide, grand larceny in the first degree, and welfare fraud in the first degree (all Class B felonies). The list also includes forgery in the first degree and health care fraud in the second degree (both Class C felonies) and vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, criminal trespass in the first degree, and burglary in the third degree (all Class D Felonies). Class E felonies include stalking in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide, rape in the third degree, unlawful imprisonment in the first degree, and identity theft in the second degree.

Misdemeanor crimes include menacing in the third degree, stalking in the fourth degree, sexual abuse in the third degree, and criminal trespass in the third degree.

Even violations, the least severe class, include crimes that should give us pause, including disorderly conduct, harassment in the second degree, and failing to respond to an appearance ticket.

Convictions — and the reality of law enforcement is that there is a vast difference between the actual number of crimes committed and the number that result in a conviction after a trial — for these kinds of criminal violations would seem to be very inconsistent with good character. Yet even multiple convictions of this kind would be no bar to enjoying the benefits provided by the proposed legislation.

Any person who has been convicted of a felony, of whatever class, or is a repeated misdemeanor or violation offender should be excluded from consideration for an adjustment of immigration status. And we also should ask whether applicants have been charged with any felony or misdemeanor and the circumstances accompanying the disposition of the case. Plea-bargaining to a lesser offense should not lead to a green light for an adjustment of immigration status.

Next: New York State's "Dream Act": Dollars and Sense