After a couple of winding exchanges with some friends provoked by a memo sent by Sen. Jeff Sessions, I finally took the time to read a counter-list by the lefty Immigration Policy Center, a CRS analysis of the bill, and the bill itself (S. 3963).

Responding to Public Arguments

A couple of caveats before I get into my opinion:

  1. There have been a plethora of bills filed, some of which are identically (and colloquially) called “The DREAM Act”. They aren’t all the same. This makes it difficult to engage in a detailed, technical argument about the merits of a particular public policy because it’s difficult to be sure you’re talking about the same policy. S.3963 is the one currently on the Senate calendar.
  2. Knowing exactly how a bill like this would be implemented is tricky for two reasons:
    1. The bill will say something to the effect of “notwithstanding any other statutes except as specified herein”, and have references to other statutes within its provisions. This makes it very complicated to divine exactly what’s being said
    2. The bill in several places leaves particulars up to the bureaucratic agencies who will actually execute the legislation. Actual implementation then depends on particular appointees to, and career bureaucrats who are all but anonymous. It’s impossible to know exactly how they will do things, except that for appointees you know by whom they were appointed, and for career bureaucrats we know that they tend to be leftward-trending statists.

Having said that, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the available facts at this point. First, the 10 points from Sen. Sessions memo, with some brief commentary on how I think each one stacks up with what I’ve learned:

  • The DREAM Act is not limited to childrenThis is factually correct. It is the case that certain aliens up to age 35 will be eligible for the DREAM program.
  • The DREAM Act provides safe harbor for any alienThis is unclear. The act specifies that eligible aliens are required to have and maintain “good moral character”, but doesn’t define the term. I saw a white paper explaining the INS definitions of the term, but it didn’t include some serious crimes, such as DUI/DWI. The text of S.3963 also doesn’t specify how eligibility is adjudicated, which leads me to believe a bureaucratic application process (via DHS) would be the practical implementation. If this is the case, then Sen. Sessions is likely correct that aliens who are deportable and ineligible for the DREAM Act program will submit applications as a delaying tactic.
  • Certain criminal aliens will be eligible for amnesty under the DREAM ActSen. Sessions listed a set of categories of crimes that would not prevent aliens convicted of those crimes from being eligible for the DREAM Act program(s), and I have not found anything in contradiction to this. The text of S.3963 specifies some crimes that would cause aliens to be ineligible, and these are not on the list. It appears that the DHS secretary or the Attorney General would have the authority to either deny or extend eligibility for certain criminal aliens, but it does not appear that the statue excludes those on the list in Sen. Sessions memo.
  • Estimates suggest that at least 2.1 million aliens will be eligible; we have no idea how many will applyIt is true that §4(d) waives all numeric limitations on green cards. The estimate for the number of eligible aliens was sourced from a Migration Policy Institute study. The selfsame study actually suggests that it would be difficult for that many aliens to actually achieve LPR, estimating 825,000 LPR statuses granted, while Sen. Sessions suggests the real number will be much higher on the basis of fraud and inaccurate estimates of the illegal population. Naturally, there is no way to prove a negative, so the jury will be out on this one until well after the fact.
  • Illegal aliens will get in-state tuition benefitsStrictly speaking, this is true. The senate legislation would actually only end the federal prohibition on states to confer or deny such benefits, but there are a number of states, having statutes providing such benefits on the books, that would automatically and immediately award in-state tuition to their resident illegal alien population. Texas is one of these states.
  • The DREAM Act does not require that an illegal alien finish a degree as a condition of amnestyThis is 100% true. As far as I can tell, the part in Sen. Sessions memo suggesting that an alien demonstrating certain types of hardship can have even the 2-year requirement waived is also true.
  • The DREAM Act does not require that an illegal alien serve in the military as a condition for amnesty, and there is already a legal process in place for illegal aliens to obtain citizenship through military service.True, and true.
  • DREAM Act beneficiaries will be given the same rights as legal immigrants, including the right to sponsor parents and extended family members for immigration.As far as I can tell, this is also true. I didn’t see any modification of the rights of LPR status gained under the DREAM Act.
  • Current illegal aliens will get federal student loans, federal work study programs, and other forms of federal financial aid.True. In fact, this paragraph of the memo looks like it was nearly lifted directly from the legislation itself.
  • DHS is prohibited from using the information provided by illegal aliens whose DREAM Act applications are denied to initiate removal proceedings or investigate or prosecute fraud in the application process.True. In fact, the memo doesn’t go far enough here: the legislative text actually extends this same prohibition to all federal employees and agencies.

So, it turns out that the memo was mostly accurate. The accuracy of items 2-4 are not entirely clear because there’s no way to know for sure – but the consequences spelled out in 2-4 are certainly distinct possibilities (by my reading) and are legitimate criticisms of the legislation until the issues are cleared up.

The IPC article uses a Myth-vs-Fact meme, one which I find interesting because I don’t really know where the “Myths” came from. I suppose they could have come from emails that might be circulating around, but some of the Myth bullets seem contrived rather than actual arguments used by DREAM Act opponents. Nevertheless, let’s fact-check these fact-checks (I’ll be responding to the “Fact” items):

Myth: The DREAM Act uses taxpayer dollars for scholarships and grants to undocumented students.

Fact: The DREAM Act states that undocumented youth adjusting to lawful permanent resident status are only eligible for federal student loans (which must be paid back), and federal work-study programs, where they must work for any benefit they receive. They are not eligible for federal grants, such as Pell Grants.

True, except for the emphasized “only”. DREAM Act beneficiaries are not eligible for scholarships or grants, and are eligible for federal loans and work-study programs, but the article doesn’t mention that they are also eligible for other subsidized benefits, such as tutoring and counseling services.

Myth: The DREAM Act allows undocumented students to pay cheaper tuition than citizens.

Fact: The DREAM Act gives states the option to offer in-state tuition to students registered under DREAM, but it does NOT guarantee cheaper tuition. At most, the DREAM Act allows undocumented students to access the same benefits as their peers. The DREAM Act allows undocumented students to access in-state tuition, but only if they would otherwise qualify for such tuition, and if state law permits undocumented students to receive in-state tuition.


Myth: The DREAM Act gives undocumented students and their families access to public benefits.

Fact: DREAM Act students receive no special benefits and are subject to the same public benefits eligibility requirements as other legal immigrants. This means that DREAM Act students and families are NOT immediately eligible for Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid (other than emergency care), and numerous other federal benefit programs. In general, a person must be here as a lawful permanent resident for five years before they receive non-emergency federal assistance.

As far as I can tell, true. The legislative text of the DREAM Act makes no mention of any particular benefits available to DREAM Act beneficiaries, so I would expect that illegal aliens receiving conditional LPR would be eligible for most of the same benefits as aliens with LPR status.

Myth: The DREAM Act will result in a mass amnesty.

Fact: The DREAM Act is not an amnesty. No one will automatically receive a green card. To legalize, individuals have to meet stringent eligibility criteria: they must have entered the United States before age 16; must have been here for five years or more; must not have committed any major crimes; must graduate from high school or the equivalent; and must complete at least two years of college or military service. Eligible students must first obtain conditional residency and complete the requirements before they can obtain a green card—a process that will take years. Not all immigrants who came as young children will be eligible to legalize because they will not meet some of these requirements.

This is true in the sense that the DREAM Act doesn’t immediately confer permanent legal status on anyone, but beyond that this is semantic parsing and spin. I have some comments below on what I think “amnesty” means. Similarly, “stringent” is an entirely qualitative term that depends on perspective.

Myth: The DREAM Act will spur more illegal immigration because it rewards undocumented youth.

Fact: Programs like the DREAM Act, which have clear cut-off dates, offer no incentives for more illegal immigration. In order to qualify for the DREAM Act, a student must have entered the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years before the date of enactment. Economic conditions have far more impact on illegal immigration than specific pieces of legislation.

This is pure spin, and everyone knows it. While the DREAM Act itself doesn’t offer much promise to foreign nationals to immigrate illegally in hopes of receiving legal status, a pattern in our administrative and legal regimes of reluctance (or, rather, outright refusal) to enforce immigration law does offer such hope. This is the kind of incentive intended by phrases such as the one in the above “Myth”. In other words, the DREAM Act is an incentive to many to come here and wait for their own “DREAM Act”.

Myth: The DREAM Act isn’t just for students, but will benefit people of all ages.

Fact: Because the U.S. has failed to address the question of illegal immigration for more than a decade, an entire generation of young people’s skills and contributions could easily be lost. The young people who inspired the DREAM Act ten years ago may now be in their early 30s and should be eligible to benefit when it becomes law. Consequently, the DREAM Act encourages immigrants 35 or younger to attend college or join the military, but they must still have entered the U.S. before they were 16 AND have been here for five years immediately preceding the date of enactment.

The “Fact” in this case is mostly unresponsive to the “Myth”, which happens to be true. Not only will particular illegal immigrants be eligible for the DREAM Act benefits, but those who complete the 6 year conditional LPR will be given permanent LPR, and will then be able to sponsor family members for chain migration. Those who then eventually receive U.S. Citizenship will be able to sponsor even more family members for chain migration. So yes, potentially, the DREAM Act could benefit many more than the directly eligible population.

Update 12/8/2010: further investigation and discussion has enlightened me to the fact that LPR aliens cannot sponsor their parents for LPR.  They can only sponsor their spouses and children.  Also, it is my understanding that current law does not allow a person to entered the country illegally to be  sponsored for a green card by anyone.  I’m a bit unclear about that, and I’m also not clear on the interaction between the DREAM Act and existing immigration law as it pertains to this issue.  The ICE brochures I read were also not clear on this.  Any lawyers care to comment?

Myth: The DREAM Act legalizes criminals and gang members and lets people who have already been ordered deported avoid the law.

Fact: Immigrants convicted of serious crimes are ineligible for DREAM Act status; the DREAM Act excludes from eligibility most immigrants applying for benefits who have been under an order of deportation. Specifically, the DREAM Act states that an applicant may not have already been ordered deported unless they received the order before they were 16 years old.

This is a little bit true. As far as I can tell, it’s true that those ordered deported after they were 16 are ineligible for the DREAM Act program(s), but I am also unconvinced that ineligible aliens would not be able to use the application process to avoid deportation for an extended period of time (as pointed out in Sen. Sessions’ memo).

Myth: The DREAM Act lets students cut in line in front of other lawful immigrants.

Fact: DREAM Act students do not compete for visas with other applicants for legal permanent residence. Instead, DREAM Act creates a separate program for students that requires them to earn legal permanent residence by attending college or serving in the military for two years while in a temporary legal status. DREAM will not affect the number of visas available or the time it takes to get a visa for those entering through traditional legal immigration.

While the “Fact” contains true statements, it is mostly unresponsive to the “Myth”, which is a subjective point-of-view. The result is semantic slight-of-hand. What is cutting in line? I comment on this, along with the term “amnesty”, below.

Myth: The DREAM Act would diminish opportunities for U.S.-citizen students.

Fact: According to the National Immigration Law Center:

Most undocumented students are likely to have zero impact on admission rates of native born students: Since 2001, 10 states have made it easier for undocumented state residents to attend college by offering in-state tuition to those that qualify. A significant portion of the students that took advantage of this opportunity have done so in community colleges, which have open enrollment. The small numbers of students who will attend 4-year universities are not significant enough to affect the opportunities of others.

Institutions charged with education of our youth overwhelmingly support the bill. Well-established education organizations like the American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, National Educators Association, the College Board, and prominent university presidents/chancellors support the DREAM Act.

I think this “Fact” wades out into places where it’s impossible to know the practical consequences of the DREAM Act, were it to become law. I also think the chances of it having “zero impact on admission rates of native born students” is about zero. Consider: what happens in the state of Texas when an illegal alien graduates high school in the top 10% of his class and applies to a state school? He gets admitted; that’s what happens. So, then, what happens when admission caps are reached at state schools? Applicants get rejected. Thus: it seems likely to me that a number of illegal aliens will gain admission to state schools at the expense of native-born and legally-immigrated students who were either (a) not in the top 10% of their class or (b) filed their application at a later date.


I think there are some terms that are commonly used in debates about immigration policy whose definitions are not agreed-upon, such as amnesty, and cutting in line. I think it’s hard to have rational discourse about much of anything without at least each side being willing to define their terms. You can have discourse without agreeing to every term, but you can’t have discourse without at least disclosing what your definitions are.


For me, this gets to the heart of the issue. Current-day Merriam-Webster defines amnesty as the act of an authority by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals. Noah Webster (you know…the one who actually wrote the dictionary) defined it in 1828 as an act of oblivion; a general pardon of the offenses of the subject against the government, or the proclamation of such pardon. Generally speaking, when an individual commits a crime and is caught, he is not allowed to keep the benefits produced by said crime. One of the demands of justice are that the proceeds of a crime be returned to those from whom they were taken – or at least that the individual who commenced the crime be deprived of his benefit. If one steals a car, he doesn’t get to keep it. If one is caught doing insider trading, he doesn’t get to keep all the money you made. If one purchases a gun illegally, he don’t get to keep it.

With illegal immigration, it’s really not much more complicated. The thing that was wrongfully taken was residence within the United States (along with all the associated benefits, such as access to a labor market, entitlement to emergency medical services, etc). If an illegal immigrant is given legal status without having to leave the country and return through the established legal channels, then he has been given a general pardon of the offenses of the subject against the government, a.k.a. amnesty. I’m not making an effort to spell out a value judgement here, but only point out that there is no way to convert a person’s status from illegal to legal without requiring them to leave the country and re-enter in the normal way and be able to deny that process as an amnesty.

Cutting in Line

I basically view this in the same light as amnesty. If an illegal immigrant is allowed to obtain legal status before a foreign national who applied for a visa and hasn’t yet received it, then it is cutting in line. I really don’t know how an honest person could see it any other way. It’s a strong statement, but considered.


Eh. I’m not really going to provide any here. I think solutions are a more difficult topic than fact-checking or defining terms. That’s the easy stuff. What’s not easy is dealing with the complexity of the basic problem: an original injustice, compounded by scale and humanity. There are a lot of illegal immigrants. Many need to know Christ Jesus, and their presence here presents American believers with an astounding opportunity to share what little we know of the gospel with people from another culture without having to go to them. They have compelling personal narratives and there’s a great deal of the stuff of human life at stake – by that I don’t mean life-or-death, but rather, family relationships, micro-economics, the personal difficulty faced by children of illegals who were brought here by their parents, the hopes and dreams of those who have made a life here (however illegitimately). There are also basic considerations of the kind of country we want to be. Cold-hearted? No. Unmerciful? No. Lawless? No. Unwilling to perpetuate our own culture? No. Betrayers of our civilizational inheritance, bought and defended at the cost of countless lives and oceans of blood? Certainly not. A Willingness to allow a second class of citizen to be a normal part of our civic landscape? No.

It’s a complex topic, one that people on all sides treat with astounding facileness.