Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Illinois Dream Act

Here is a paper by a social work student who was interested in the Illinois Dream Act. I think it's an interesting paper, and worth sharing.  My comments are in the red typeface at the end of the editorial.

On May 4th, SB 2185 was passed with a 45-11 vote. This bill will create a DREAM Fund, which will be a scholarship account entirely funded by private dollars, and it will give out scholarships to students without legal resident status seeking higher education. The fund would open up college savings programs and prepaid tuition programs to all Illinois residents. The eligibility requirements for a student to receive a scholarship include: lived with their parents or guardian while attending a public or private high school in Illinois, graduated from a public or private high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in Illinois, has attended an Illinois school for at least three years as of the date the student graduated from high school or received the equivalent of a high school diploma, and to have at least one parent who immigrated to the United States.

I have mixed feelings about this new bill. These students were brought here with their parents, they had no control over whether their parents had legal status or not, and so to deny them an education is cruel and a violation of international treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A while back Illinois passed a law so these residents could benefit from the in-state tuition rate and that was a fair step. And yet I am also worried that somehow American citizens of Illinois will have to pay for their education, for although American citizens who reside in Illinois and benefit from the taxes paid by undocumented workers (e.g., payroll taxes for Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, or Social Security that these workers will probably never collect, sales taxes, and even sometimes property and income taxes), I worry that the children of undocumented workers might receive public education subsidized by taxpayers (many without any children in public schools or universities) who expect their taxes to support only the citizens and legal residents in their communities. I know the bill says the scholarship funds will be from private dollars and donations, but this is Illinois; we’re not known for managing our money or our programs’ money the way we should. I don’t want to be seen as an uncaring person who is against the bill, but if these residents are of college age then shouldn’t they now know their undocumented status and either work on changing it before going to Illinois colleges and universities or else go to universities in the nations where they have legal status? 

Yes I am an European-American but I worked just as hard to get into school and I have taken out loans to help pay for it. But sometimes it bugs me that if you are not European-American and a school has to fit the diversity quota for that year, then come on in and here is a scholarship for you just because of your ethnic background and not your academic achievement. It would just be nice to find a way for people to earn their education by following the law, and by not taking opportunities or funding away from the students who are legal immigrants and those who are American citizens.

One point you want to make is that there is a sort of compact between citizens and their government, and so residents who are not citizens stand in a special situation, and it seems that those residents who obey immigration regulations ought to be rewarded by receiving nearly equal treatment with citizens, while those residents who do not follow immigration laws or regulations ought to be forced to do so.  You have not mentioned anything about a government’s responsibility to establish clear procedures and to process immigration cases at a reasonable speed, but I think you probably are assuming that we expect non-citizen residents to “follow the law and procedure” because we expect laws and procedures to be clear, fair, and administered with reasonable speed (which is not, unfortunately, the case for immigration case processing in our nation). But at any rate, it is clear that some citizens support their government because they conceive of their government as an expression of the common interests of citizens and legal residents. Inasmuch as the government may devote American lives and treasure to the support of undocumented non-citizen residents or foreign citizens living abroad, such citizens may feel the government is diminishing the resources available to support citizens and legal residents.  So, it seems your opposition to public funding to support undocumented resident aliens must rest on this feeling that this is to some degree a breach of the contract and trust between citizens and government.

 There is also the quite natural sentiment that laws established in democracies are the laws we as citizens want, and people who come to our land should follow our laws.  Persons who live here without legal status are not obeying our laws, and are therefore demonstrating that they are willing to live in a way that contradicts the will of the citizens and legal residents.  You are suggesting that the children of such households ought to take care of their status to become legal residents (but you do not examine whether we as a people have pushed our government to make this feasible or a possible option for such children), or you are suggesting (implying, but I have edited the paper to make it explicit) that such children ought to seek an education in the lands where they have citizenship. You are also concerned about ideals of equal opportunity and the principle of individual merit, and you somewhat object to policies that give more opportunities to individuals because of the groups those individuals happen to belong to, regardless of individual merit. Again, the principles, when spelled out, make sense.

The DREAM Fund is to be supported with private donations, rather than public funds, although some public funds will be used to administer it, I suppose. And various programs we have to give incentives to Illinois residents to send their children to schools in Illinois will now be open to persons whose resident status is undocumented or in limbo. 

By the way, it is sometimes claimed that because undocumented foreign residents in the United States don’t have Social Security numbers, they therefore do not pay Medicare or Social Security withholding on the earned income. In fact, undocumented foreign workers who have jobs in the United States tend to use fake Social Security numbers. This is how employers and banks are starting to catch undocumented workers and account holders, by comparing the Social Security numbers reported and the names associated with those Social Security numbers in government databases.  It’s true that some very casual labor jobs or agriculture jobs might pay cash only, without any withholding or taxes paid, but even in those cases where income taxes are evaded, most residents cannot escape paying sales taxes or (sometimes indirectly through their rent payments) property taxes. 

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