Americans should rethink DREAM Act

December 30, 2010


The DREAM Act, a bill that would have put some undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before they were 16 on a path to citizenship, failed to pass the Senate in part because Republicans are in full anti-immigrant mode. But it also failed because not one American leader urged us to seriously consider what it means to be American in the 21st century.

I’m not a flaming liberal on immigration issues. I don’t believe, as some activists have insisted, that illegal immigrants should be given the right to vote in municipal elections. I am concerned about the growing number of immigrants — particularly wealthy ones — who choose dual citizenship for themselves and their children, a practice I fear leads to split or weakened loyalties. I understand that we can’t simply open our borders to all.

Still, critics of the DREAM Act are wrong to think the legislation would somehow encourage illegal immigration and diminish the value of U.S. citizenship. That kind of thinking stems from opponents thinking of citizenship in only the most narrow, legal terms. Ultimately, national citizenship and the rules that govern it are meant to limit membership. The assumption, of course, is that the people the rules govern are foreigners, who stand on the outside looking in, desperate to qualify for membership in an exclusive club but ignorant about its culture and traditions.

The DREAM Act was meant to benefit a very different group: the already Americanized children of illegal immigrants who, as one undocumented student recently wrote, may have fallen asleep in Michoacan one day and awakened the next in Boyle Heights. It was designed to legalize the status of young people who did not themselves break the law to come here, but were brought unwittingly and often have no memory of any other home. Moreover, the law would have applied only to those who had shown a commitment to education or joined the military. In other words, the DREAM Act would have legally conferred Americanness on individuals who were already rooted culturally, geographically in the United States, and in the promise of the American dream.

I believe, as the late liberal philosopher Richard Rorty once wrote, that love of nation is a necessary requirement for making a country a better place to live. Today, air travel, international trade and digital technology have blurred all sorts of jurisdictional lines between nation states. But when push comes to shove, I think nations should require their citizens to choose one loyalty over all others. And the DREAM Act was aimed precisely at people who have done that.

Patriotism is rooted in attachment to home and community, and the DREAM Act was written to benefit people who demonstrated their attachment by pursuing an education or through service to the country. In the late 18th century, when the U.S. was new, it was this sort of patriotism and love of country that the founders expected from anyone who wanted to become a citizen.

The debate over the DREAM Act was disappointing in part because it was a wasted opportunity to explore the connection between community and patriotism, to examine geographic rootedness and what it means to be American. It was our chance to begin understanding Americanness more broadly as encompassing loyalty to and common fate with the people who share our towns and cities.

It’s not that legality does not matter. It does. This country, like any other, has the right — and the need — to police its borders. But when we deny legal status to young people who have spent most of their lives here, have no other country and are American in everything but legal status, we miss the point and ultimate benefit of patriotism, which is to make our country and its thousands of communities more cohesive and better places to live.

The DREAM Act, which was first introduced a decade ago, is dead for now but almost certainly will be taken up again one day. Next time, proponents should push a broader, more illuminating discussion of what it means to be American.

Gregory Rodriguez is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.


voevoda 3 years, 3 months ago

Most illegal aliens entered the US legally, using visas to visit family, or be tourists, or go to school. Then they overstay the visas. Most illegal aliens are not terrorists. Most illegal aliens are not trying to destroy America. Some want to earn money and go home. Some want to stay and share in the American dream. They enter the US illegally because a) they are given employment by American companies and individuals who prefer cheap, compliant workers; and b) they can't get work visas legally because the government restricts the number artificially. The DREAM act was intended to help regularize the status of individuals who were brought to the US as children--that is, when they were not competent or in a position to understand that they were breaking the law. They don't have another country to "return" to. They have become American. We should make it easy for them to become citizens. If the concern is about encouraging illegal immigration of children in order for them to become legal and then legalize their parents, there can be restrictions in the law to prevent it.
As for the larger problem of illegal immigrants, the solution is to crack down on employers and loosen up on short-term work visas. The "Arizona" approach Kris Kobach now endorses--arresting suspected illegals--only helps the private prison business while impoverishing the state, which must pay indefinitely to house, feed, clothe, and defend the illegals. Back in 2007, Kobach touted the Arizona law to crack down on employers as a method that was solving the problem. But then he changed his mind--because there was more money and more publicity to be made by proposing the arrest law?


BornAgainAmerican 3 years, 3 months ago

The Dream Act is just another perk and incentive for illegals to cross our southern border and break our laws. Until our southern border is secured there should be absolutely no other considerations. How many terrorists have entered this country from the south and now live among us?


jayhawklawrence 3 years, 3 months ago

The problem with people like Kobach is that they do not offer any sensible solutions. He reminds me of one of the guards we used to see near the Berlin Wall in Germany, shooting with an UZI anyone who tried to leave.

You cannot have law without morality. You cannot have enforcement without compassion. You cannot govern without empathy.

I am all for protecting our borders and ending the chaos. I cannot support those who would destroy the dreams of these young immigrants who are pursuing something as noble as a college education.


Ray Parker 3 years, 3 months ago

No amnesty, keep illegal aliens out of our public schools and colleges and out of our military. Build the dang fence. Run 'em out.


grammaddy 3 years, 3 months ago

Those who worked so hard to kill the DREAM act should not count on the Latino vote in the next election.


Haiku 3 years, 3 months ago

Predicting this thread devolves into the cliche, "THEY'RE TAKIN OUR JOBS".


Eybea Opiner 3 years, 3 months ago

It would be virtually impossible to deport 11-12 million illegal aliens, so the "no amnesty" line in the sand is simply a political ploy that essentially prohibits a solution to the illegal immigration problem. We need a comprehensive approach to the problem.

  1. We must secure our borders. By whatever means necessary, be it a fence, the army, whatever, we have to stop the flow of people and drugs across the border.

  2. We must establish an efficient guest worker program. It is clear that many of our most labor-intensive jobs are scoffed at by our native born (ever see one roofing a house in the middle of summer, or picking lettuce?). We need the labor, we just need to match demand and supply.

  3. We must penalize those who make illegal immigration so attractive; the employers of undocumented workers. Agressively seek out those "enablers" and fine them until it really hurts, and we will have gone a long way to solve the problem.

  4. Since we can't realistically deport the millions of people who are here illegally, we must find a way to make them here legally. The guest worker program will take care of much of that since many undocumented aliens have no desire to live here permanently. The rest should be offered a chance to apply for citizenship provided they have an established history here---a job, ties to the community, no criminal record, etc. We might require payment of a fine just to underscore the seriousness of being here unlawfully.

  5. Politically, we must pressure Mexico to clean up their politics. Mexico is corrupt from top to bottom, and it is no wonder that the country can't provide for its own citizens, forcing them to come north for jobs. We also have to impress upon the Mexican government that our problem is also their problem, and that they have to be a part of the solution.

That five point program seems to me to have enough enforcement to placate the hard-liners and enough forgiveness to make the bleeding hearts happy.

At the end of the day, secure, well-regulated borders are the most important element of national security.


CorkyHundley 3 years, 3 months ago

Barney Frank said that kids that get money "willed" to them by their parents do not deserve it. The kids didn't "work" for it. That's why he thinks the government should take half of it when the parents die.

So the Dude thinks that south of the border lawbreakers deserve money from the kids that parents die and leave them money.

How come lawbreaker kids from south of the border rank higher than kids born here?


George Lippencott 3 years, 3 months ago

Exactly what is wrong with allowing the best and the brightest from among our high school graduates to pay for college the way the rest of us do?? The issue gets very fine here. If you are born here of undocumented parents you are a citizen. If you are brought here a few months after birth you are illegal???


Flap Doodle 3 years, 3 months ago

If your parents robbed a bank, should you get to keep the money?


CorkyHundley 3 years, 3 months ago

Taking the brightest and most patriotic Lawbreakers from countries south of the border to force them to be Americans, is only going to make the area south of the border less attractive to tourists.

Mr. Roderiguez must work to keep the brightest young minds south of the border.


Gene Wallace 3 years, 3 months ago

What flag do the children of migrants and illegal immigrants carry during their protests and marches? Is the Reconquista Movement patriotic?


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