Let me say at the outset that I'm a legal immigrant to the USA. There's a good reason for all the hoops through which people like myself must jump. We have to prove that we're healthy, suitably qualified to support ourselves, and don't pose any threat to the security or interests of the United States. It's a long and sometimes arduous process, but it's worth it. This country is still the last great bastion of individual freedom on Earth, even though it's becoming more statist in many ways; and as long as those of us - native-born Americans and immigrants - who value freedom have any say in the matter, that freedom will not totally die.
I have no patience with those who argue that illegal aliens should actually be regarded as 'undocumented immigrants' and treated with kid gloves. Most of them are here for economic reasons, not because they have any loyalty to or affection for the United States. If they could earn a better living elsewhere, they'd line up to go there instead. Far too many of them despise and reject US law (as evidenced by the number of them incarcerated for all sorts of crimes). That's not surprising, really, since their very presence in this country is an act of defiance against and contempt for those laws. Since they've begun their residence by disregarding US law, there's no reason to believe they'll show any more respect for it if they're allowed to stay; so I see no reason why they should be given anything more than a free ride back to the border. In fact, if they have sufficient assets to pay for that ride, I'd make them do so - why should my taxes take that hit?
There is, however, one group of illegal aliens who attract my sympathy. They're the children of those who came here illegally. Most of them were far too young to be aware of what their parents were doing. As they've grown up, they've found themselves in the same legal difficulties as their parents, through no initial fault or illegal action of their own.
This has been highlighted by two news reports today. First, José Salcedo, the President of the Student Government Association at the InterAmerican campus, student representative on the Board of Trustees of Miami Dade College, and a member of that school's 550-strong Honors College, announced that he was, in fact, an illegal alien. His mother brought him to the USA at the age of 9. He seems eager to regularize his status.
Salcedo has big dreams. He wants to become a citizen, join the military and become a politician.
"I would love to join the military and once I come back I would like to run for public office -- mayor of the city of Miami," Salcedo said. "Start off small and pull my way up."
There's more at the link.
Second, the president of the student body at Fresno State University in California, Pedro Ramirez, has also admitted that he's an illegal alien. His family brought him to the USA when he was only three years old.
Ramirez says he would have preferred to reveal his secret in a different way but fear kept him in hiding until now.
"When you lie or when you hold something back or you hold it in. It kind of blinds you and you don't know what to do. So coming out of the shadows and telling people what I am and what I've been through you know it's a big relief for me." said Ramirez.
Ramirez says he is also aware that there could be severe consequences to coming clean including the possibility of being deported. But for now, he's just focused on getting his degree in the spring.
Again, there's more at the link.
I can sympathize with both these men. They committed no crime in coming here - they were brought by those who committed the crime (their parents). By definition, children so young as they were at the time aren't considered capable of fully understanding what's right and wrong. They find themselves today on the horns of a dilemma. They're regarded as criminals (and yes, technically they are criminals) because of someone else's actions, to which (at the time) they had neither the opportunity to object, nor the ability to understand, nor the maturity to give informed consent. Both men appear to have 'made good' and to be upstanding members of their respective student bodies. It's a great pity that they, and many others like them, find themselves trapped in this situation.
The question is, what can be done for them that is, at one and the same time, fair to them, and not prejudicial to US citizens and legal immigrants? Some activists on behalf of illegal aliens came up with the so-called 'DREAM Act', currently before Congress. According to Wikipedia:
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The "DREAM Act") is a piece of proposed federal legislation in the United States that was first introduced in the United States Senate on August 1, 2001 and most recently re-introduced there and the United States House of Representatives on March 26, 2009. This bill would provide certain inadmissible or deportable alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning. The alien students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, a qualified student must have "acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States," or have "served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge." Military Enlistment contracts require an eight year commitment. "Any alien whose permanent resident status is terminated [according to the terms of the Act] shall return to the immigration status the alien had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under this Act."
Again, more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.
I'm of two minds about the DREAM Act. I have sympathy for those who came here as minors, and now wish to regularize their status, particularly because (as I mentioned earlier) they are not guilty of any crime in coming here. I've no doubt many of them will make fine, upstanding citizens if given the chance. However, the provisions of the Act seem overly generous. It seems to me that people in this situation should have to earn their right to stay in the USA, not be handed it on a plate, so to speak.
For that reason, I'm not comfortable with a two-year period of study being sufficient qualification. I think that military (or comparable) service, and for four years rather than two, should be a prerequisite. After all, universities are notorious for being 'party city', a place for hedonism and undergraduate high-jinks rather than serious work. It's not all that difficult to maintain a passing GPA and have a good time while doing so. That's a far cry from military service, which exposes one to the real risk of getting killed or injured while serving one's country, and makes one work hard into the bargain. (Legal permanent residents who are not yet US citizens may already serve in the US military and earn 'fast-track' citizenship. The same right has recently been extended to selected non-permanent residents with specific skills.)
I'd accept the DREAM Act more readily if it took this into account. Why not offer people in this situation a chance to earn residency (and, ultimately, citizenship) by asking them to prove their worth through hard work and a period of self-sacrifice? I think a four-year service period in the US military or other demanding Government service isn't too much to ask of them. I say 'other demanding Government service' because there may not be enough military service slots available for those concerned. However, there are many other departments that have a lot of hard work to do. For example:
- The Forest Service administers 155 national forests and 22 national grasslands, and has responsibilities like brush clearance and fire-fighting that need lots of warm bodies;
- There are many port authorities needing staff for cargo handling, security work, infrastructure development, and the like;
- The Department of Transportation oversees interstate highways, airports and other facilities, and needs staff to do the same work as port authorities;
- The US Army Corps of Engineers is not just part of the Army, but a Federal agency in its own right as the world's largest public engineering, design and construction management organization, administering dams, canals and flood protection, and providing a quarter of this country's hydro-electric power;
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency may not need many staff when there are no emergencies to be managed, but in times of crisis it would certainly be able to use a disciplined, trained, fit work force to assist in its operations.
These agencies (and many others) could offer four years of hard work to law-abiding would-be residents. Those with felony convictions in juvenile court would be excluded, of course, although I'd be prepared to be flexible if they had only one or two non-violent misdemeanor convictions. (Kids will be kids, after all!) Upon honorable completion of four years service, they could be awarded permanent resident status (the so-called 'green card'), with the right to apply for citizenship after a further five years residence, as is the norm for permanent residents.
A national paramilitary service agency, perhaps patterned after an existing organization such as the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, could be set up to handle such personnel. It would provide initial disciplinary, fitness and other training, plus classes in civics and other prerequisites for eventual citizenship (which could continue throughout an individual's service). It could also offer ongoing education, perhaps to GED level, and even possibly offer degree courses, all via distance education for part-time study. It could assign its personnel wherever they're most needed, and also offer them the flexibility of changing from one agency to another after a minimum period of service. That might help them decide on a career path, and gain valuable initial experience and training.
On that basis, I'd be prepared to accept something like the DREAM Act as a way forward, allowing those caught in this trap to earn the right to stay in the USA and become citizens. However, I'm adamant that this must not become 'the thin edge of the wedge'. It mustn't become an excuse for activists to argue that, since their children can now become legal immigrants, we should extend the same right to their illegal-alien parents out of 'compassion'. Bull! Those who knowingly and deliberately broke the law to come here must pay for that, at least by being expelled from this country. They can't be allowed to get away with their crime - and a crime is precisely and exactly what it is. That's hardly a suitable foundation for honest, upright citizenship. (I'd go so far as to insert a specific provision into the DREAM Act, stating that nothing in it may be used to argue for or justify any further relaxation in US immigration law.)
What say you, readers? Is this a viable way forward for the children of illegal aliens, those who are here illegally through no fault of their own? Is four years too long a period? If this isn't acceptable at all, do you have any other alternative to offer? Let's hear from you in Comments.