The American DREAM


University graduate, Pulitzer Prize winner, illegal immigrant. One of these things is not like the other ones? Last week, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote an essay in New York Times Magazine acknowledging that he is all of the above, having entered the United States illegally at the age of 12. “I’ve lived the American dream,” Vargas writes.

The American dream, as I understand it, is to bootstrap one’s way from rags to riches, using elbow grease and a can-do attitude. This involves much apple pie and baseball at Fenway Park. Quite another interpretation is the dream of entering America. Vargas has lived both, and writes to support the DREAM Act, a proposal that would grant permanent residency to young illegal immigrants. DREAM requires arrival before the age of 16, five years’ residency, and two years in university or the military.

The U.S. has seen passionate (vitriolic?) debate about DREAM. Champions like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid say that the Act will pay for itself. The Center for Immigration Studies is not so sure; graduation is not required, and the earnings bump from “some uni” is modest. Projected benefits are long-term, doing nothing to offset the short-term costs of subsidising tuition for students whose parents have never paid tax. Conservative critics like David Frum and Mark Krikorian see the Act as incentivising criminality: information submitted under DREAM cannot be used in deportation proceedings. Frum writes, “DREAM sends a message to every teenager on planet Earth: Come to America.”

There are problems with DREAM. It appears to reward illegal immigration. It lets people pre-empt deportation by making evidence of their status inadmissible in court. It is unfair to legal immigrants. It is also just a stopgap.

Quotas are too low. Crossing Arizonan desert will always be worth escaping poverty, so there will always be illegal immigration. Everyone knows this, but prefers ineffective walls to higher quotas. Americans need to realise that they would be better off biting the bullet. Migrants would be documented, and taxed. Their children would be educated, earning more than their parents. The individual’s right to freedom of movement would be upheld.

Britain is guilty of similarly flawed policy. Venting of spleen has produced the Home Office’s new quotas. The number of students is to be cut by 230,000, with net migration below 100,000. I have written before how wrongheaded I find the student limits. Ditto for the net restriction. Rather than wait for things to get worse, Britain should lead the way in pro-immigration reform. The UK has a strong immigrant history, from William the Conqueror onward. It is time that we respected this heritage, individual freedoms, and the future of our economy by embracing healthy, legal immigration.