Education as Patriotism: A Novel and Dubious Defense of the DREAM Act

By Stanley Renshon on January 5, 2011

Gregory Rodriguez put one of the most novel defenses of the recently defeated DREAM Act in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. He does not, of course, take up any of the glaring and egregious loopholes contained in the bill as written, but his argument is unusual enough to be considered on its own merits, or lack thereof.

He introduces the piece and himself as not believing that illegal immigrants should vote in local elections. He adds that he is concerned by the loyalties of dual citizens and understands that we can't simply open our borders to everyone. Now if he could only resist complaining that the bill was defeated because "Republicans are in full anti-immigrant mode."

That tired liberal talking point aside, he thinks the bill failed because "not one American leader urged us to seriously consider what it means to be American in the 21st century." And what does it mean to be an American in the 21st century? Well, one thing is to not think "of citizenship in only the most narrow, legal terms."

Globalization and technology have blurred the lines of national communities, but Rodriguez writes that "nations should require their citizens to choose one loyalty over all others." And, he argues, the DREAM Act was aimed precisely at people who have done that.

How have they demonstrated that? Well, according to Rodriguez, "Patriotism is rooted in attachment to home and community, and the DREAM Act was written to benefit people who demonstrated their attachment by pursuing an education or through service to the country." (emphasis mine)

So, Rodriguez's argument is that young (up to age 30 years of age, in the version of the bill that was voted on) illegal immigrants demonstrate their patriotism by going to school or through service to the country. I am not the first to note that elevating military service to the same level of commitment and self-sacrifice as going to "an institution of higher learning" is an unsustainable equivalence.

I am one of those who believe that serving in the uniform services does indeed reflect a commitment to country and community that deserves recognition. Of course, if the backers of the bill had been serious about the importance of military service reflecting national commitment and patriotism, they could have written the bill that would have provided a "path to citizenship" for those who had already served in an active duty capacity in the armed forces (if old enough to have done so) and provide a much more limited and narrow adjustment of immigration status for those choosing the education route. (For an example for more limited drawn adjustments of status, see here.)

However, the clincher for Rodriguez is that the illegal immigrants this bill was meant to help were "young people who have spent most of their lives here, have no other country and are American in everything but legal status." Moreover, "the DREAM Act would have legally conferred Americanness on individuals who were already rooted culturally, geographically in the United States, and in the promise of the American dream."

Here Rodriguez is making an argument that goes well beyond the fact that a number of these illegal immigrants have been raised in the United States and are already culturally and geographically rooted here. He is arguing that by virtue of these two facts such persons are patriotic and deserving of legalization on that basis.

His evidence? "The DREAM Act was written to benefit people who demonstrated their attachment by pursuing an education or through service to the country." (emphasis mine)

I have never heard the argument seriously made that by choosing to go to school one is demonstrating their patriotic commitment to this country. Because of the enormous self-interest involved in choosing to gain more education in normal circumstances and the even more rampant self-interest involved in saying you will do so if it results in legalizing your status, it is a dubious argument but, as noted at the outset, a novel one.