On Wednesday, the Senate blocked the DREAM Act, falling 8 votes short of the 60 needed to end debate on the legislation that would have allowed some children of illegal immigrants to go to college or enlist in the military. It would have required the students to earn a high school diploma and pass a criminal background check before qualifying for permanent residency. I often hear anti-immigration activists argue that they favor legalized immigration or suggest that immigrants come here primarily for jobs, not to attend college, which is probably the case with most people coming from the third world. If you think about people coming from impoverished conditions in developing countries, they are probably most immediately thinking about putting food on the table before ever even imagining that their child could one day go to college in the US. So I don’t think that the notion that this law would encourage more illegal immigration is even a very strong argument. Additionally, I also find it hard to argue why an economy that thrives on skilled labor would not want to encourage these kids to advance themselves with higher education or military training. They didn’t make the conscious decision to come here illegally in the first place, and providing these youth with an opportunity to become legal, while gaining valuable skills seems like a good way to encourage productivity. Those undocumented children who advance that far have often forged a path to success with more obstacles than many native born youth. I do want to note that Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.) and Joseph Biden (Del.), voted in favor of the DREAM Act, while John McCain (R-Az.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) skipped out on the vote. Given the status of immigration on the policy agenda, isn’t it kind of odd that McCain and Dodd didn’t vote on this one? Especially McCain who represents a border state.
Actually, when I think about the DREAM Act, the strongest argument that I could make against it is the military service portion, knowing that many military personnel supported this effort in light of failed recruitment goals with the Iraq War. But then when I consider the fact that our American population is aging so rapidly and that in approximately ten years spending on the elderly will eat up almost half of the federal budget, I wonder how the US will support a top heavy system without an educated and skilled younger workforce. Investing in human capital by encouraging higher education is key.