It turns out Sarah Palin knows even less about immigration than she does American history. During a recent interview with a New York news channel, Palin claimed that the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide a pathway to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants, “usurps ... the system.” She further stated that the legislation perverts a legal system geared toward immigrants “who want to be here legally, working hard, producing and supplying revenue and resources for their family.”
But if Palin, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, had read even a few lines of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011, she would realize how ridiculous her statement is. The DREAM Act -- which has been pending in Congress since 2001 -- was re-introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on May 11 after it failed in the Senate in December 2010. And contrary to Palin's characterization, the bill in no way “usurps” the system as it seeks to remedy the status of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as babies and children, through no fault of their own.
In fact, the system that would be set up under the DREAM Act grants no special privileges to undocumented immigrants that citizens don't already enjoy. Indeed, it falls in line with exactly what Palin believes a legal immigration system should do: help immigrants who want to work hard and produce and supply revenue and resources for their families. To wit, from the Immigration Policy Center:
Research has shown that providing a legal status for young people who have a proven record of success in the United States would be a boon to the economy and the U.S. workforce. University presidents and educational associations, as well as military recruiters, business and religious leaders, have added their voice to those calling for passage of the bill. The DREAM Act will help boost the number of high-skilled American-raised workers. A 2010 study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center estimates that the total earnings of DREAM Act beneficiaries over the course of their working lives would be between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion. Removing the uncertainty of undocumented status allows legalized immigrants to earn higher wages and move into higher-paying occupations, and also encourages them to invest more in their own education, open bank accounts, buy homes, and start businesses.
Examining the 2010 Senate version of the bill, the Congressional Budget Office also stated that the “increase in authorized workers ... would increase revenues by $2.3 billion over 10 years, according to estimates provided by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).” CBO and JCT further estimated that the bill “would reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period.”
As far as Palin's claim that the DREAM Act “usurps” the system? No, it doesn't. What it does do is create “a separate program for students” who would “not compete for visas with other applicants for legal permanent residence.” Indeed, the act would "not affect the number of visas available or the time it takes to get a visa for those entering through traditional legal immigration." Moreover, if every undocumented student met all the stringent requirements for application, less than 40 percent would obtain permanent legal status, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
To be eligible for “conditional permanent resident status” under the legislation, an undocumented immigrant would:
- have lived in the country for five years;
- have been 15 years or younger when they entered;
- be a person of “good moral character,” which the bill defines as a person who has not been convicted of “any offense under Federal or State law punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than 1 year” or “3 or more offenses under Federal or States law, for which the alien was convicted on different dates for each of the 3 offenses and imprisoned for an aggregate of 90 days or more”;
- have been admitted to an institution of higher education or graduated from high school or earned a GED;
- AND be 35 years old or younger.
Only once these requirements are met, including undergoing criminal background checks, would an undocumented immigrant be granted temporary legal status. Following a six-year period, immigrants could apply for legal permanent residency if they had:
- acquired a degree from an institution of higher education or completed at least two years;
- or served in the military for at least two years, and if discharged, received an honorable discharge;
- and not been out of the country for more than 365 days in that total six-year period.
That would amount to about an 11-year wait and likely more than $2,500 in fees -- on top of tuition and housing costs -- before they could even think of applying for citizenship. That's some way of usurping the system.
During the interview with NY1 News at Ellis Island, Palin explained why she had chosen to visit the landmark, saying that it was “one of the symbols, of course, of our liberty, and it's a reminder too that immigrants built this country, so we want to make sure that we're highlighting that on our bus tour.” She then expressed her appreciation for “present-day immigrants” and “their work ethic, and their love of country and freedoms.” She added: “It's why they came here; we want to make sure we're preserving that.”
According to Palin, today's undocumented youths, hardworking and patriotic though they may be, don't fit into her definition of “present-day immigrants.” No matter that there are hundreds of thousands of such immigrants, like Mark Farrales, for example, a University of California-San Diego grad student who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University last year. Farrales was reportedly brought here at age 10 from the Philippines and has yet to become a legal resident even after years of his family petitioning the courts for legal status. Deportation proceedings against him have been stayed for a year through deferred action.
And there's the case of Eric Balderas, another Harvard student set to graduate in 2013. Reportedly brought to the United States as a 4-year-old from Mexico, he hopes to become a cancer researcher. Balderas was also facing deportation until Sen. Durbin lobbied U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on his behalf. There are untold thousands more like Farrales and Balderas, hardworking and patriotic, facing similar situations.
Palin further claimed during her interview that “immigrants of the past, they had to literally and figuratively stand in line ... to become U.S. citizens,” adding, “I'd like to see that continue.” Did Palin even take the Ellis Island tour? If she had, she would've known that for “immigrants of the past,” there was no such thing as “stand in line.” Immigrants of affluent means who arrived in New York Harbor, for example, only "underwent a cursory inspection" before being free to enter the country. The less affluent and those that appeared sick or had legal problems would be rerouted to Ellis Island, and, once there, the “inspection process would last approximately three to five hours.” It included answering a spate of 29 questions like, “Are you an anarchist?”
Of the more than 12 million people who came to Ellis Island in 62 years, only about .02 percent were turned away -- about 250,000 people. And of the immigrants who came to the United States between the 1860s and 1930s, nearly 100 percent were from Europe and Canada. In the 1940s and '50s, those immigrants still made up more than 80 percent of new permanent residents, thanks to U.S. immigration control's racially biased system. Compare that to today's immigration system, which literally demands that you count a U.S. citizen among your immediate relatives before emigrating. (And the majority of today's permanent residents, by the way, are from Asia -- one third to be exact.)
Immigration policy experts have criticized today's system for being “inadequate to meet the needs of the U.S. in the 21st century,” including that "[i]nsufficient numbers of visas are made available to bring in either high-skilled or less-skilled workers at the levels needed to meet the changing needs of the U.S. economy and labor market." But let's say a prospective immigrant happens to have an immediate American relative -- a distinct advantage looking at last year's immigration data. According to the State Department and ICE, however, for a 30-year-old Mexican national with a high school diploma whose sister is a U.S. citizen, the wait to become just a permanent legal resident can be astronomical -- "131 years" to be exact. How's that for “literally and figuratively” standing in line?