The DREAM Act, for those who don't follow politics, is a bill backed primarily by Democrats which would establish a path for illegal immigrants to obtain permanent legal residency through education or military service. It has been opposed by critics as a sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants (which it kinda is), and because it rewards criminal behavior (which it kinda does). It has been proposed and revised several times over the last decade, and is still not popular enough to be passed.
At this point, I'm going to state something which may surprise regular readers: I kinda like this bill, and with a few caveats, I think it would be a good idea.
Before I explain, let's get into a little philosophy on immigration in general. It's in the best interests of countries to encourage and facilitate immigration of skilled workers and other productive members of society, provided that the industrial system in the country can support additional productive work and people. Historically, the US has had no problem with this: the capitalist economic system allows lots of opportunity for job creation, innovation, and prosperity from the ability and willingness to work for it. As long as you're importing quality people, with the skills and desire to work for a living, and the willingness to integrate into your society, they will likely be a net benefit to the society.
This brings us to a question of what would be ideal for the US. First and probably most importantly, would-be immigrants should want to be fully-integrated members of the country; that is, learn the language and customs, follow the rules, like the country, etc. Second, they should be educated and/or skilled enough to be productive members of the society, and not a burden on such. Third, you need to make it clear, both in word and deed, that one person fulfilling the criteria is not a gateway to any others, so that you don't get net negative immigration. Those things being established, let's compare the DREAM Act to them, and see how it stacks up.
The act provides a path to residency for people who are young, complete a college degree or military service, and are of good moral character. That actually seems fairly close to the ideal: military service could do a lot for integration into the language and culture, and a college degree could do a lot for granting the skills necessary to be productive. The youth requirement helps ensure that people granted residency under the act have time to contribute to the society, and there are some restrictions on people who have broken the laws. So, generally speaking, the act does a fairly good job of encapsulating a good immigration policy.
As for caveats, I have a few things that I would like to see also in the bill. Obviously, I'm not in Congress, so these are unlikely to be added, and they are not major, but I'll call them a wish list of small improvements which would make me less hesitant in my support:
- I'd like to see the college degree be in a field which was recognized to lead to a job in something which is in-demand. I realize this would be somewhat hard to quantify in the legislation, but there are a lot of college degrees which do not lead to productive jobs, and giving residency to someone with a degree in "want fries with that?" doesn't seem optimal.
- I'd like to see a restriction on public funds being used to subsidize the education, and a restriction that the school must not have admitted or retained the student due to any discriminatory program (such as affirmative action). If we're going to give residency for people who were skilled enough to get a degree, let's not include people who were not skilled enough to get into college without using the color of their skin (explicitly or implicitly). You could exclude any schools from the program which have discriminatory admissions programs; that would be ideal.
- I'd like to see the program suspended if unemployment in the country is above a threshold. There's no reason to import people to take jobs away from existing legal residents when the economy is suffering, and this might help encourage other programs to keep the economy strong.
- I'd like to see a requirement that the program applicant also obtain a private-sector job (or multiple) for at least one year after completing the education or military service portion. This would prove that the person could be a productive member of society, and act as an additional check that the other provisions were working as designed.
Would the bill be better with these provisions? I think so. However, I don't think the bill as written is that bad, and even without these provisions it is probably positive on the whole. As much as a don't like rewarding criminal behavior, it behooves the US to have a rational path for immigration for those people who would benefit the society, and this bill seems a heck of a lot better than most amnesty proposals. That's my opinion, anyway.