The DREAM Act: A Positive Incentive-Based Approach to Immigration Reform

I applaud the DREAM Act, pending federal legislation that would give undocumented students a pathway to citizenship.  It’s unique because it gives illegal immigrants positive incentives to stay here and do good things.  The DREAM Act grants a 6-year conditional permanent residency to illegal immigrant students who (1) graduate from a US high school, (2) have good moral character, and (3) have lived continuously in the US for 5 years before the bill is passed.  After 6 years, these students can become lawful permanent residents if they earn a higher degree or serve 2 years in the U.S. military.

Contrast this approach with typical waiver provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which give illegal immigrants the incentive to stay here, not get caught, and create dependencies.  For example, hardship waivers sometimes allow illegal immigrants to obtain green cards if they stay here a minimum number of years and don’t commit crimes, and if they’re deportation would cause a qualifying relative “extreme hardship.”  That means that illegal immigrants with the most dependent children and the fewest productive family members, have the greatest chance of staying here legally.  The DREAM Act’s incentive structure is clearly superior.

In short, the DREAM Act is a fresh, promising approach to immigration reform.  Even if it’s not passed, I hope it marks a creative change in thinking on immigration policy.

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