You would think that it would be unquestionable that our Southern border is out of control — because it is. There are 250,000 new folks from Latin America streaming across that border a month. That means 3 million people, at least, are entering the U.S. illegally each year.
Since everything has turned into a social media political football, or a call to arms, I won’t say whether I think this is good or bad. The country I grew up in had about 220 million people in it. As we crest 330 million, it seems to me that this is an unchallengeable fact this country is not the same country as it was back in the 1970s. Whether you think that is a good thing or bad thing, once again, will depend on your perspective. It is also clear that this cannot go on forever.
But here’s what I don’t get. We have some 1 million young people brought here by their parents, without permit or permission. I’ve taught a fair number of them. Called DREAMers, which I’ll explain below, or potential DACA candidates – DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – their fate has not been a literal political football. It has basically been ignored. While somewhat contentious in the Republican party (only 4 out of 10 support DACA), Democrats support DREAMers at something like 75% of those polled.
And with the generalized ignorance over this pretty complex issue, I’m sure that if this was actually explained to the general public, instead of being fed into the social media blender, most would support it. The notion of sending someone back to their country of origin when they showed up at 2 and are now 21 just wouldn’t fly.
Yet nothing moves in Congress, after multiple reintroductions of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. The DREAM Act would grant those minors conditional permanent residency based on a list of requirements, including no criminal record, graduation from high school, and enrollment in community college or university, or service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The last time the DREAM Act was introduced was 2017, with bipartisan support. Even though it was introduced by folks with as diverse political alignments as Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, and Chuck Schumer, Democratic senator from New York, it still failed. Once again, politics were complex, and beyond the scope of this column.
But all of it doesn’t just stop being ridiculous, just because people can’t scale numbers. A million young lives, basically committed to be productive citizens, is literally a drop in the bucket when it comes to our border crisis. That’s about four months of illegal immigration. One must start wondering about the real dedication of both Republicans and Democrats to the well-being of our young people when they can’t move something as obvious as the DREAM Act through Congress. It’s true that compassion has to always be balanced with numbers in the context of immigration policy. But these are numbers that are small, when framed with the other problems. And these young people are already here.
I’ve had several DREAMers in my classes, and while that anecdotal sample is simply that, by the time anyone makes it to the senior year of undergraduate engineering school they definitely know how to work. If I had to modify the DREAM act myself, I might target appropriate service in terms of training at trade schools or other professions that the nation needs.
But none of that is really the issue. As we labor through a continuously contentious fight over the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, or the other nonsense around transgenderism and women’s sports, young people are suffering that have a fundamental claim to being citizens in our country.
It’s time to tell our Democratic and Republican elected officials to pass some version of the DREAM Act. It’s the simplest track we can take to getting at least a little of our politics back on track.
Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.