Immigration reform has been sidetracked as concerns about the economy and budget deficits dominate Congress. The divided Congress likely means the issue will not be addressed for another two years. Sometimes, opportunities to nibble around the edges of large problems present themselves. While they do not provide the comprehensive solutions required, such small fixes can make real differences. The DREAM Act is one of those fixes.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, first proposed nine years ago, would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented parents. The key idea driving the legislation is that citizenship is a reward to those minors who take steps toward becoming productive. To be eligible, the undocumented immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before they were 16; been here for at least five consecutive years; be between the ages of 12 and 35; graduated from a U.S. high school, obtained a GED or been accepted for admission at a college or university; and have “good moral character.” The last quality is defined in U.S. immigration law as having no record of serious criminal offenses.
Under the DREAM Act, the undocumented young person has six years to acquire a college or university degree or “have completed at least two years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree” or have “served in the uniformed services for at least two years and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge.”
Five and a half years after application, the person can apply for permanent legal residency, with citizenship to follow. Failure to fulfill the requirements in six years disqualifies the applicant.
Like the Opportunity Maine program, which provides tax credits for college graduates who work in the state, the DREAM Act would help grow a vital component of a health economy by encouraging more young people to complete college. This educational standard is appropriate and not without precedent. Immigration criteria for other countries often assigns points based on educational levels achieved; those with more education are more likely to be admitted.
The military service component also provides benefits that flow both to the individual and the nation. Recruiting for the all-volunteer armed forces has been difficult in recent years; providing an incentive to serve makes sense. The discipline, training and character-building that comes with military service provides society with a productive citizen and the individual with marketable skills.
The bill represents the very best of legislation, addressing a vexing problem with a fairly simple, but sensible fix. Maine is in dire need of such young, educated and productive citizens.