New York State's "Dream Act": Committing Most Crimes Is No Barrier

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on March 22, 2012

Various federal and state versions of "Dream Act" legislation seem tailor-made as a wedge issue and are used that way by advocates. Who could be against helping those who were brought here illegally as infants and young children by their parents and now suffer the consequences of their parents' effort to give them a better life? Why, people, mostly though not wholly Republicans, who are "anti-immigrant", that's who.

The reality is quite different.

Those sympathetic to the plight of these individuals are not against helping them. They are against advocates' use of their plight to push the legalization door open for those who have much less claim on Americans' sympathy or help.

Consider for example, how the proposed New York State Dream Act treats criminals. I did mean to use the word "criminals", and I am not talking about those who have broken some aspects of our immigration law by coming here as infants or children with their parents.

The original justification of the bill was clear that those covered would have to have demonstrated "good moral character" to have access to financial aid, employment opportunities, and health insurance coverage within the state.

That sounds fair. But just what does "good moral character" mean?

No specific definition of that term is given, but an understanding certainly is, and it's a stunner.

The original bill stipulated that to be eligible a person should, "NOT HAVE BEEN CONVICTED IN THIS STATE OR ANY OTHER STATE OR TERRITORY OF A FELONY." (italics added)

I'll get to the implication of this shortly; but before doing so, let me point out that this requirement was changed in a subsequent version and now reads: "NOT HAVE BEEN CONVICTED IN THIS STATE OR ANY OTHER STATE OR TERRITORY OF A VIOLENT FELONY". (italics added)

That's right. The original bill disqualified those who had been convicted of a "felony", while the latter version amended that to convicted of a "violent felony".

On its face, by itself, and only by itself, this is eminently reasonable. Of course, we would not want someone convicted of a violent felony to receive the substantial benefit that comes with an adjustment of his or her immigration status. But the truth of the matter is that there are many other crimes that should be a disqualifying bar to any regularization of immigration status.

You can gain some further idea of how high the proposed New York statute has set the criminality exclusion bar by noting that the latest version of the federal Dream Act includes the provision that persons will be excluded from consideration for "any offense under Federal or State law punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than 1 year ... or 3 or more offenses under Federal or State law, for which the alien was convicted on different dates for each of the 3 offenses and sentenced to imprisonment for an aggregate of 90 days or more."

In setting the criminal behavior exclusion bar so high, the proposed New York State Dream Act uses the idea of narrow tailoring as a device to ensure that only the smallest number of those who commit serious criminal offenses will barred from receiving the benefits of adjustment to their immigration status.

Narrowly tailored indeed.

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