The Corner

The E in DREAM

While Sen. Harry Reid regroups for another shot at passing the DREAM Act next week, it’s worth reviewing the details of this little-analyzed law. The MSM inevitably presents the law as a way for successful young illegal aliens who are living the American dream by pursuing a college degree to fully join the mainstream. In fact, the DREAM Act is written to maximize the number of illegal aliens who are shielded from immigration enforcement, period. Its educational and character trappings are so minimal as to be pretextual.

Every illegal alien who applies for what is known as “conditional legal status” is immunized from any fear of deportation for ten years. The threshold for qualifying for conditional legal status is extraordinarily lax. An illegal alien can have a criminal record and still qualify, as long as the time served for an aggregate of three non-felony offenses is under 90 days. (The current version of the bill, S. 3992, is a masterpiece of legalistic obfuscation on this count.) In Los Angeles (and undoubtedly elsewhere), jail overcrowding (significantly due to illegal-alien criminals) is such that prosecutors and courts routinely plea-bargain felonies down to misdemeanors and sentence property crimes and even some violent offenses to time served in jail while awaiting a plea bargain. Thus, one can have quite a history of offenses without crossing the DREAM Act threshold for criminal ineligibility. Drunk drivers and drug dealers could also qualify for conditional legal status, so long as they have routinely pled down.

Even if a judge has previously ordered an alien deported on criminal grounds and the alien ignored the deportation order, he may still qualify for conditional legal status if he received the deportation order before he was 16.

The education requirements in a bill purportedly about rewarding educational achievement are also ridiculously minimal. High school drop-outs qualify for conditional legal status, so long as they have obtained a no-brainer GED at some point.

Once granted conditional legal status, an alien is shielded from any enforcement proceedings for ten years, gaining the right to drive, work, and travel internationally, as if he had entered the country legally.

To convert conditional legal status to permanent legal status, the illegal alien needs at most to have completed two years worth of college credits over ten years. He need not have earned a bachelor’s degree, nor have maintained a high GPA. He could have spent five years in remedial classes and the next five accumulating a year’s worth of credits in Chicano/a studies. But even that minimal educational standard is waivable. If the illegal alien shows “compelling circumstances” for not accumulating two years worth of credits or if removal would cause “extremely unusual hardship” to the alien or his family, he can still be granted permanent legal status.

The DREAM Act is not about creating an incentive for, or rewarding, high educational achievement. It is about trying to extend an amnesty to as many illegal aliens as possible, who will then have the ability to legalize their family members.

Heather Mac Donald — Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops

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