May 18, 2010

The DREAM Act is commendable. Advocating only for "good" immigrants is not.

The DREAM Act needs to be passed – now. The DREAM Act is one that allows undocumented youth who finish high school in the United States to apply for legalization. Students who qualify for the DREAM act are often the poster children for immigration campaigns – students with 4.0 GPAs and high aspirations. It is clear that it is in the best interest of the United States to grant these youth a path to legalization.

That said, there is one issue with the DREAM Act – it is one of many legislative proposals that pits “good” immigrants against “bad” immigrants. Good immigrants are ones that never violate any laws, that go to school, that work hard, that learn English, that behave, and that become “American.” Bad immigrants are ones that have a criminal record, that drop out of school, that protest their working conditions, that don’t learn English, and that aren’t American enough.

Politicians and advocates often offer legalization as a prize for good immigrants. But, should legalization be a prize? Perhaps it should be, if you think that the United States is a fair country where good behavior is always rewarded and bad behavior is always punished.

However, the reality is that nearly ALL people in the United States have committed an infraction that would render them ineligible for legalization. Anyone who has shoplifted, smoked marijuana, driven while under the influence, used a false ID to get into a club, had a switchblade, been in a vehicle with illegal drugs, used prescription drugs without a prescription, or gotten into a fight would be ineligible for legalization …. if they were caught and convicted of these crimes. Most people in the US have done one or more of these illegal actions over the course of their lives. Most people, however, are not caught, convicted, or sentenced for these relatively minor crimes.

And, it turns out that blacks and Latinos who engage in these illegal activities are much more likely to be caught. Two white people driving across the country with a stash of marijuana under the back seat are much less likely to be caught than two black or Latino people. If caught, the whites are less likely to be convicted. If convicted, the whites are much less likely to get a harsh sentence.

To advocate only for the “good” immigrants is to condone racial inequality in America. My criminal record is sparkling clean. My conscience, however, is not, as I have committed illegal actions in my life. Who hasn’t?

Immigration reform needs to happen soon. And, when it does, politicians need to have the courage to stand up for all immigrants – not just the good ones.

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