Republicans launched another salvo against the DREAM Act today by emphasizing that it would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants with criminal records. There is truth to the claim, but the emphasis and outrage is overblown.
DREAM would allow those with up to 2 misdemeanor convictions which didn’t together total more than a 90 day sentence to still qualify. However, that requirement needs to be understood in the larger context of how misdemeanor crimes are held against the rest of us. It’s worth noting that such a criminal record might keep you out of certain security related jobs, but wouldn’t disqualify you from being in the military, and otherwise is considered a pretty minor smudge on your record. Anyone with a felony record or even a series of minor crimes would not be eligible.
Further, applicants would be required to be admissible under Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This means they can be disqualified for any number of reasons including being on public assistance, illegal voting, visa or marriage fraud, or being deemed a criminal or security threat. In addition, they must pass tests in civics and English and have all their taxes paid up. There are certainly ample restrictions to assure the U.S. doesn’t admit undesirables or deadbeats under the proposed program.
As a side benefit, even applying for DREAM brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and on to the books. Those that don’t qualify or don’t fulfill their obligation will be able to be deported or otherwise dealt with as they will now at least be registered with the INS. Today we don’t even know these people exist.
Most importantly, what the DREAM Act does do is provide a way for people who have essentially grown up here and feel American to actually become American. It forces them to prove their worthiness by serving in the military or completing a 2-year college education, thus making it unlikely these people will be a burden on our society. Rather, it makes it more likely that immigrants qualifying for citizenship under DREAM will be self-sufficient and productive member of society. And we can use all of them we can get.