Will DREAM lead to more illegal immigration?

Sen. Jeff Sessions opposes the Democrats’ lame-duck push for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for foreign-born children of undocumented immigrants if they attend college or enter into the military. Politico reports:

None of the bills has been reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee or undergone a cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, wrote Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“This shell game makes it nearly impossible for members of this body, and their constituents, to properly review and consider the legislation prior to a vote,” he said. “It is an abuse of the process and on that basis alone members ought to oppose cloture.”

What’s most frustrating about this sort of “process argument” from Republicans — It’s not that I don’t like what you’re doing; it’s the way you’re going about it I don’t like — is that it’s entirely disingenuous. Republicans only care about things like reconciliation when it’s not them employing it (it was okay when it was used to pass the Bush tax cuts, but not health care), and their problem with the DREAM Act isn’t that Democrats are going about it the wrong way. Later in the Politico story, you get to the real reason Sessions is making such a fuss about vetting the DREAM Act: “by rewarding illegal behavior, [it] will encourage future illegal immigration.”

That’s what Republican opposition to immigration reform is all about (besides an excuse to exclaim their favorite word, “amnesty!”): being “tough” on those who live in the country without authorization. When it comes to DREAM, they think providing citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants is amnesty by proxy — and fear it will encourage more parents to cross the border illegally to provide their children the opportunity to become citizens.

One can see how Republicans might see this as an incentive. Many parents do come to the United States hoping to provide their children a better life — and they’ve been willing to work low-wage jobs in construction, agriculture, and the service industry without health care, Social Security, or any chance of participating in civil society — to do it. However, the DREAM Act would only provide current residents under a certain age — not new ones — with the ability to earn citizenship.

But it’s actually quite telling that Republicans are afraid of the possible incentive giving college grads and military members citizenship would provide for people to cross illegally. Anti-immigrant activists like to pretend that those who are here illegally have just chosen to hop the fence instead of going through a straightforward immigration process. But what this says is that getting a college degree or fighting on a battlefield are actually easier than going through our immigration system — otherwise, why would it be such a draw? Now that seems like something “immigration reform” should focus on.

Gabriel Arana is a senior editor at The American Prospect in Washington, D.C. His pieces have appeared in The Nation, Slate, The Advocate, the Daily Beast, and other publications. He is a graduate of Yale University and a native of Nogales, Arizona.

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