Dangerous Compassion? Conservatives on a Revised DREAM Act

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on December 28, 2010

Those who accuse conservatives with heartless and unshakable antipathy to immigrants, devoid of any understanding of the human and moral complexities that are part of our nation's immigration dilemmas, don't bother to know much about conservative thinking. Case in point: Debra Saunders' heartfelt column supporting a future GOP written version of the so-called "DREAM Act."

Saunders is the San Francisco Chronicle's thoughtful (and only) conservative columnist. She acknowledges that, "I see 'comprehensive immigration reform' as code for amnesty and a reward for breaking the law, but I like the idea behind the Dream Act. Children don't choose to cross the border illegally – their parents do."

She is not alone among conservatives who heart goes out to the children of illegal immigrants who, though no voluntary act of their own find themselves in a new country that their parents brought them to without, however, having done so legally, thus compromising their status and prospects. The Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian, who has written that mass immigration in modern societies is unnecessary and counterproductive, has expressed his sympathy for children whose equivocal immigration status is their parents', not their own, responsibility. Anyone with a heart as well as brain recognizes that children brought here by their parents illegally at a very young age are different in many ways from those old enough to know better but who choose to break our immigration laws almost wholly to satisfy their own self-interest.

The question is: what to do about this difficult set of circumstances?

With that question in mind, what does Ms. Saunders propose? She writes: "an acceptable Dream Act, if tightly written, would extend a welcoming hand to immigrant children who go to school or join the military, without instantly rewarding adults who chose to flout federal immigration law."

It is unclear what the term "tightly written" means, and Ms. Saunders provides no details except to apparently accept the idea that the welcome would only extend to those who "go to school or joint the military." Apparently, those who did neither would not be so welcomed.

She does note one possible downside to such a more tightly written bill and that is that, "Eventually, naturalized Americans would be able to petition for legal residence of immediate family, but the process would take time." Apparently Ms. Saunders is willing to accept this is a price for compassion, but more thinking suggests this price need not necessarily be paid.

And then there is the very large dilemma that she doesn't mention. There is by now substantial evidence, mentioned by all three recent immigration reform task forces, that immigration amnesties create the expectation of future amnesties. If illegal immigrants are bringing their children to the United States so that they can have a better life, and it is those children that get their status regularized, what is to keep future generations of illegal immigrants from making exactly the same calculation, buttressed by the not unreasonable expectation of a future DREAM Act?

There are ways . . .

Next: Why a Revised DREAM Act Might Help American Immigration Policy

Topics: DREAM Act