The Corner

Do It for the Children — and Their Parents?

House Republicans are putting togther their own version of the Dream Act, called the Kids Act, which would amnesty illegal aliens who came here as, well, kids. But the effort to get some Democrats signed on to the bill has hit a snag; Democrats insist that the amnestied illegals, once they become citizens, be able to sponsor their illegal-alien parents and other relatives for green cards. Republicans, on the other hand, are concerned about the follow-on effects of the amnesty, which could significantly increase overall immigration numbers and create new chain-migration networks and thus new flows of illegal immigration.

Neither of the two rationales for a Dream/Kids amnesty covers their relatives. The strongest case for such an amnesty is that young people who grew up here, especially those who came as infants or toddlers, are emotionally and psychologically American, and thus prudence (and perhaps justice) suggests we should resolve their anomolous situation. The second, weaker, basis for such a law is that the illegal immigrants in question were too young to be held responsible for coming illegally and thus shouldn’t have to pay for their parents’ offenses. (I say this is weaker because children pay for their parents’ mistakes all the time; for example, if you lose your home because you took on a mortgage you couldn’t keep up, your kids don’t get to stay just because they didn’t take out the mortgage.)

Well, the Dreamers’ parents did not form their identities here; they reached adulthood in their home countries, and will always be to some degree strangers here. What’s more, if the children didn’t do anything wrong by coming here, their parents surely did, and allowing them to be sponsored for immigration by their amnestied adult sons or daughters would be to reward them for their lawbreaking. In either case, allowing amnestied Dreamers to sponsor their parents and other illegal-alien relatives for immigration is clearly outside any defensible justification for such a law.

As I see it, there are three ways to address this issue. One is to legalize the Dreamers, but only with a renewable work visa, rather than a green card. That would mean they’d be able to stay, work, study, drive, benefit from affirmative-action preferences, collect the Earned Income Tax Credit, etc. but would not become citizens (or even permanent residents, which is what the green card signifies). This is the idea that Senator Rubio was playing with last year and is basically what Obama did with his illegal administrative amnesty (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA). The problem with this is that the Democrats would immediately demogogue the issue and Republicans would eventually cave and upgrade the amnestied Dreamers to full green-card status.

A second option, which is apparently being considered by House Republicans, is to include “a provision in the Kids Act that bars these particular citizens from sponsoring their family members.” The problem is that this would create different classes of citizens — one group that can take advantage of certain sections in the Immigration and Nationality Act, and another group that cannot. I don’t know the jurisprudence here, but it strikes me as something many judges would be itching to strike down as unconstitutional. And even if it were to survive judicial scrutiny, it would meet the same fate as the first option — Congress is all but guaranteed to eventually eliminate the restriction.

The third option is the only one that seems to me viable over the long term: Eliminate the chain-migration categories altogether, so that no one can sponsor their parents (or siblings or adult children) for immigration. This would limit special family-immigration privileges to husbands, wives, and little kids, which is what we mean by nuclear family. Chain migration is a fundamental design flaw in our immigration system that needs to be rectified regardless of what we do with the Dreamers. But taking the opportunity of such an amnesty to eliminate chain migration would both limit the fallout of the amnesty and effect broader needed changes.

But this whole discussion may be moot. If I had to guess, I’d say Eric Cantor, who’s taking the lead on the Kids Act, will just cave in to the Democrats and allow amnesty recipients to sponsor anyone they want, ignoring the downstream problems this creates.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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