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.


Gene Wallace 7 years, 5 months ago

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

geekyhost 7 years, 5 months ago

It's only ok to take pride in your heritage if you're white.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 5 months ago

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

geekyhost 7 years, 5 months ago

No. You should also be banned from any chance of legitimately earning your own money. Analogy fail.

George Lippencott 7 years, 5 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???

Kirk Larson 7 years, 5 months ago

Actually, what he said was you are not being taxed, because you are dead; your heirs are being taxed. Which is generally how we do things: tax capital when it changes hands.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

I think that statistics would show that liberals give at least as much, if not more, to charitable causes than conservatives.

Kirk Larson 7 years, 5 months ago

I'm proud to pay my taxes. I wish I had the problem of all the whiney rich folk. If I did, I'd still proudly pay my taxes and be thankful for all the government services that provide the setting for me to make all that money. As I've said before, the rich benefit more from the government than anyone else. hence they should pay for what they receive.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

"That's already been taxed to the bejesus."

Actually, a very high percentage of the money taxed by the inheritance tax has never been taxed, or taxed at a much lower rate than most other income.

But I understand that that doesn't support your view of poor oppressed rich people, so you won't acknowledge it.

Jimo 7 years, 5 months ago

I believe he said that the windfall money shouldn't be the only form of income that's tax free. Only in Glenn Beck's America is money earned by working hard taxed but moneybombs dropped via chance birth gets its lost tax revenue added to the burden on hard workers.

Aren't we all so lucky to have to pay a Paris Hilton surtax on our non-privileged income?

Kirk Larson 7 years, 5 months ago

I agree. 3 and 5 are the most critical, I think. 3 is the one that makes republican heads explode. They want to come down hard on undocumented workers, but they want to placate their corporate masters who hire cheap labor.

Haiku 7 years, 5 months ago

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

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 5 months ago

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

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 5 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.

Jimo 7 years, 5 months ago

Nor can you easily make water flow uphill. Whenever there's a shortfall in labor to meet demand you can choose to fill it with "legal" labor or accept "illegal" labor.

Our country refuses to reform the immigration system to allow adequate immigration (too many dark people!) and so is cursed with an uncontrolled, informal system (with too many dark people!).

In the holiday period where we celebrate the Feast of the Holly Innocents, it's a good reminder that Egypt didn't have such a restrictive immigration system or baby Jesus would have ended up on the business end of Kris Kobach's -- oops, King Herod's -- sword.

voevoda 7 years, 5 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?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Without imputing terrorist motives to illegal aliens, it is still possible to conclude that the massive amounts of illegal folks here have a negative impact on our country.

Any actions that reward those who are here illegally will only serve to increase that number.

Making it "easy" for children of illegal parents to become citizens rewards them, and indirectly their parents, for illegal acts.

And, of course, it punishes those who are going through the correct steps to try to come here legally.

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