DREAM Act Will Shield Some Gang Members from Removal

By Jessica Vaughan, December 14, 2010

If Congress passes the version of the DREAM Act approved by the U.S. House last week, ICE will likely have to scale back its successful anti-gang program known as Operation Community Shield, because more than one-fourth of the potential targets could qualify for the amnesty.

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The DREAM Act allows any illegal alien who meets the loose criteria for age, residency, education, and basic background check to receive conditional residency and near-immunity from removal for 10 years, even if he is unable to meet the requirements for permanent status at the end of that period. In 2010, according to ICE statistics, more than 1,300 of the 4,370 gangsters arrested were under the age of 30 and had yet to commit crimes serious enough to bar them from obtaining the conditional status offered under the bill. They included hundreds of members of MS-13, Surenos, 18th Street, and the Latin Kings, not to mention associates of prison gangs such as Barrio Azteca, the Mexican Mafia, and groups associated with the Mexican drug cartels.

To arrive at this estimate, I analyzed ICE records of gang members arrested in FY2010, filtering for those aliens under the age of 30 with lesser non-violent criminal offenses who had not been previously deported. I could not determine the number who had lived in the United States for at least five years, which is another criterion for amnesty, but then under the terms of the DREAM Act, immigration officials won’t really be able to tell with any certainty either.

The same is true for the education requirement – applicants are supposed to have earned a high school diploma or a GED certificate to obtain conditional residence, but there is no mention of how they will establish that. While it is widely assumed that many gang members have not completed high school, in fact there are many gang members attending high school, and I could find no firm data on the number who don't finish. For drop-outs, fraud will be an attractive and low-risk option, considering the immigration agency's poor record of detecting fraud. The DREAM Act conditional status is good for up to 10 years, or until the alien acquires a more serious criminal record. As a result, if the bill passes, it is certain to blunt the effectiveness of the anti-gang program for the next few years, as a significant number of gang members would be shielded from removal.