New York State's "Dream Act": Kindly Spare Us the Partisan Hyperbole

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on April 4, 2012

The infant-tender years narrative of the Dream Act invites public sympathy and support, and that is its purpose. It succeeds in doing so because it rests on a legitimate moral claim — that some people are being placed in an untenable immigration situation because of the behavior of their parents over which they had no control because they were infants or young children when they arrived in the United States.

The truth is that many who support the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws are sympathetic to the plight of this particular group. As one of those who is, however, I must note that the tendentious ways in which advocates press their preferences is not conducive to finding common ground, if they have any real interest in that.

David Kallick, senior fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), in his testimony on the proposed New York State Dream Act, discussed the financial contributions of immigrants and then said, "Just as important, I think, is that these DREAM bills would help send a message that New York welcomes immigrants."

Would it be more fair and accurate of him to have said that support of such bills help sends the message that New York welcomes illegal immigrants? Wouldn't it be better to have the courage of your convictions, if that's what they are, than hide behind obfuscations?

The New York State bill does no better in the reasoning it provides for the bill's justification:

Despite an unprecedented year of action and escalation taken by undocumented youth, the United States Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010. This has left undocumented youth in NY without any form or relief. It is now up to the State of NY to provide dignity and recognition for these promising and deserving young people.

As a state with one of the largest immigrant populations, NY should be at the forefront of progressive immigration policies, pushing back on the tide of national and local anti-immigrant policies. The NY Dream Act will respect the dignity and contributions of undocumented youth in the state by giving them access to state financial aid programs. [emphasis added]

The bill's senior author, Democrat State Senator Bill Perkins, and his colleagues who joined him in sponsoring this bill are entitled to their views, of course. But accusing anyone who disagrees with the specifics of your particular bill as being "anti-immigrant" is hackneyed, off-putting, and counter-productive.

  • Is it "anti-immigrant" to think, as I (and others) do, that persons illegally brought to the United States as infants or young children deserve help in the form a policy change that is truly narrowly tailored to their unique circumstances? No, I don't think so.

  • Is it really "anti-immigrant" to want any such policy to address only those truly brought here as infants and children and not those who are anywhere short of 18 years old? No.

  • Is it really "anti-immigrant" to want any such policy to set a date after which new arrivals are no longer able to take advantage of a one-time adjustment so that the policy does not continue to encourage new generations of illegal immigrants? No, that seems fair.

  • Is it really "anti-immigrant" to insist that those who might be covered by any such policy do a little better in their personal behavior than not having been convicted of violent felonies? I think not.

Regularizing the status of illegal immigrants, even if they have a claim for tailored adjustments, is controversial. One reason why is that past efforts in this area have been dishonest, angry, and ugly. Accusations of being "anti-immigrant" if you oppose whatever is being advocated are rife. So are bait and switch tactics and outright misrepresentations.

The tragedy of this approach is that it poisons the search for common ground that is not that hard to formulate.