Column: Wake-up on a Dream ActSAN DIEGO — In politics, both parties have been known to take a good idea and ruin it by going too far. In doing so, they drive away people in the center who might normally agree with them.
By: Ruben Navarrette, Worthington Daily Globe
SAN DIEGO — In politics, both parties have been known to take a good idea and ruin it by going too far. In doing so, they drive away people in the center who might normally agree with them.
It happened again in California where Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill to expand the educational opportunities of college students who also happen to be illegal immigrants. The bill is the second half of two-part legislation that supporters call the California Dream Act.
That was their first mistake. A word about branding. There is only one DREAM Act. It would have created a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants who went to college or joined the military. It died a horrible death last December when five U.S. Senate Democrats bolted from their own party and killed the bill by voting “no” on cloture. The whole thing may have been choreographed. Democrats fool Latinos into thinking they’re in their corner by claiming to support the DREAM Act. But in truth, they couldn’t afford to let this bill become law on their watch, because they knew Republicans could use it to bludgeon them in future elections.
Meanwhile, frustrated by the inability of Congress to pass the DREAM Act, activists in Texas, California and other states have slapped that misleading title on any kind of proposed legislation involving immigrants and education. And this practice only serves to confuse people on both the right and the left.
Let me clarify something. There can be no California Dream Act because California — or, for that matter, any state — doesn’t have the constitutional authority to do what the DREAM Act would have accomplished: create a pathway to legal status.
The bill that Brown signed was an encore to earlier legislation that allowed illegal immigrant college students to apply for privately funded scholarships. Part II allows those same students to go a step further and also apply for state-funded financial aid, something done now only in Texas and New Mexico.
Meanwhile, aside from the issue of providing financial assistance to go to college, California is already one of about a dozen states that lets illegal immigrants who have spent the last few years residing in the state pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.
You see where the states are headed with regard to shaping immigration policy: in radically different directions. While California is expanding educational opportunities for immigrant college students, immigrant parents in Alabama are worried their children might be kicked out of elementary school.
Charging in-state tuition is fine; in fact, it’s only fair because illegal immigrants who reside in a state contribute daily to tax coffers and economic productivity. And letting illegal immigrants apply for private scholarships is perfectly acceptable as well; private donors can do as they please with their money, and the state shouldn’t get in the way.
My problem is with the third component — the one that allows illegal immigrant students to also apply for state-generated financial aid.
This is flat-out wrong. Like getting a state-issued driver’s license, being eligible for state-funded financial aid is not a right but a privilege. And it’s one that illegal immigrants haven’t earned. We should draw the line right there, and make no apologies for it. Those of us in the center have to approach this issue with nuance, instead of with what the extremes offer: blanket support or knee-jerk opposition. What’s wrong with looking at a bill such as this and picking out what seems fair and discarding the rest? That’s common sense.
The legislation that Brown signed did two things but only one was worth doing. He should have quit when he allowed undocumented college students to apply for private financial assistance and left public funding off the table.
A lot of Californians think of illegal immigrants as takers, spongers, and thieves. That’s wrong. These people give back as much as they receive. So why would anyone want to advance that faulty narrative by giving away scholarships that are paid for with public tax dollars just because you have the votes?
I’m sure that those who want to give state-funded financial aid to illegal immigrant college students have good intentions. But you know where that road leads.
Ruben Navarrette’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.