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Debating the DREAM Act (UPDATED)

The Defense Authorization Act, which is soon to come for a vote in the Senate, has a controversial provision added to it repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whatever one thinks of the hot-button issue of gays in the military (personally, as I’ve written before, I believe that it is inevitable that gay service people will be allowed to serve openly), there should be much more agreement on another provision added to the bill: the DREAM Act. A good summary can be found in this Wall Street Journal article of how this provision would speed citizenship for those who arrived in the U.S. by the age of 15 if they attend college or serve in the armed forces for two years. This would open up a new avenue for service for those like David Cho, “an honor student and leader of the UCLA marching band,” who “plans to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates in the spring — if Congress lets him.” Why it makes sense to turn away those like Cho who want to wear our nation’s uniform is beyond me. According to the Journal:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) believes passage of the Dream Act would entice more people to sneak into the U.S. “When you take a policy that says you are going to reward people who have entered our country illegally with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship, and with billions of dollars in financial aid or benefits they would not otherwise be entitled to, what message are we sending?” Sen. Sessions said.

Count me as skeptical that the prospect of attending college or serving in our armed forces will really draw more undocumented immigrants to our shores. (Plenty are coming already simply in the hope of picking lettuce or working in construction.) But if it does, so what? Aren’t these precisely the kind of productive, highly motivated individuals that we want to see in this country?

Our ability to attract and integrate immigrants gives us a key long-term advantage over more homogenous societies such as Japan, China, and Western Europe. Immigrants are already serving proudly in the U.S. armed forces — as they have since the beginning of the Republic. It makes perfect sense to continue to make use of these dedicated volunteers, especially because of the valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge they can bring to our armed forces, which find themselves in need of such skills to wage a global counterinsurgency. In the process, we can use our armed forces and our universities as they have long been used — to integrate newcomers into the mainstream of American society. If we don’t, we risk expanding the underclass of undocumented immigrants who turn to illicit activities because legal work and education are closed to them.

ADDENDUM: One of the leading legal experts on the DREAM Act e-mails me that Senator Sessions’s objection is even less to the point than I realized: “The DREAM Act doesn’t cover anyone who enters the U.S. illegally today. It has a cut-off date, so the objection that it will ‘encourage illegal immigration’ seems just a little bit ‘off.’ ”



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