Framing the DREAM Act

Reihan responds. His thoughts are, as always, worth reading in full. But let me just quickly comment on this:

But my sense is that there is an upper bound on the number of foreigners that U.S. citizens will welcome to work and settle in the United States in any given year. I don’t know what that number is, but I imagine it’s not much higher than, say, 1.5 million per annum at the very high end. I am willing to accept that as a starting point, i.e., we’re not going to allow 3 million or 7 million or even 1.6 million. Chances are that a number smaller than 1.5 million would reflect the preferences of a voting majority, e.g., 800,000.

I don’t think this model of how the electorate thinks about immigration—first decide how many “slots” there are going to be and then decide how to dole them out—bears any relationship to reality. I think Reihan is right that if you ask the average voter how many immigrants she’d like to admit each year, she’d give a depressingly small answer. But fortunately, public opinion on this (like every other issue) is underdetermined, incoherent and highly susceptible to framing. There are many voters who think we admit too many immigrants in general but can be persuaded that it’s worth making an exception for certain immigrants whose situations seem particularly sympathetic. So not only does each DREAM kid not take up a full “slot,” I suspect that the process of debating and enacting the DREAM Act will actually increase the number of “slots” by improving the public view of undocumented immigrants in general.

This is how politics works. If you want fewer abortions you focus on “partial birth” abortions. If you want legal pot, you start with medical marijuana. If you want universal vouchers, you start by focusing on vouchers for kids in failing schools. If you want to end the estate tax, you focus on the relatively small minority of families who are forced to sell off their business to pay the tax man. This kind of half-measure is not only much easier to enact, but it also tends to move public opinion to be more favorable to the 200 proof version. In an ideal world, voters would be perfectly rational and omniscient and we wouldn’t have to play these kinds of games. But they’re not, so we do.

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4 Responses to Framing the DREAM Act

  1. Frank Youell says:

    The proposed Dream Act needs to be considered realistically. This is massive Amnesty for every illegal alien who can claim, even fraudulently, that they entered before the age of 16 and have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years. The proponents assert that the illegals must serve in the military or attend college. This is not true for several reasons.

    The key reason is that any “qualifying” illegal gets 10 years of legal status simply by applying. Of course, in theory applications can be denied. However, past experience shows that blatantly fraudulent applications will be received in massive numbers and readily accepted. Note that the Dream Act specifically forbids the use of any information received in an application for any immigration enforcement purpose. Apparently, the Dream Act imposes no penalties for fraud no matter how blatant. Of course, it is very unlikely that the Obama administration is going to apply a fine tooth comb to any applicant, particularly when they have millions of forms to consider.

    The age 16 cutoff is quite significant in this context. Aside from the fact that an illegal who entered the U.S. at age 15 really did grow up in Mexico (or anywhere else), the 16 year threshold makes fraud detection rather difficult. If the cutoff was 10 or 12 the Federal government could reasonably insist that each applicant produce school records to show what age they snuck over the border. By contrast a fraudulent applicant can simply claim that they entered at age 15 and went to work shortly thereafter. Of course, they may have really been 25, but who is to say otherwise?

    Once they apply every illegal gets 10 years of legal residence in the U.S. In theory to stay on after 10 years, they have to join the Army or go to college. However, the Dream Act has a “hardship” exemption that anyone can claim. Since even a denied “hardship” claim can be litigated forever, this amounts to “no illegal left behind”. The government doesn’t have the resources to reject even obviously bogus “hardship” claims given the de fact rule of immigration law (“it ain’t over until the illegal wins”).

    However, the truth is worse. Even illegals who never lift a pencil or a rifle will engage in activities tying them to America over a ten year period. Some will marry. Others will have children in and out of wedlock (very likely the latter). The notion that Congress, the courts, and Federal bureaucracy are going to remove this illegals after a 10 year hiatus is dubious at best. The bottom line is that this a ten year down payment on permanent Amnesty for every illegal who applies with essentially any convenient fictions on his or her form.

    The next question is what is likely to be the impact of these illegals on our nation. This topic has been extensively researched and the results are highly negative. A number of references make this point all to clearly.

    1. The 1997 National Academy of Sciences study found that each low-skilled immigrant costs $89,000 over the course of his/her lifetime. See

    “The NRC estimates indicated that the average immigrant without a high school education imposes a net fiscal burden on public coffers of $89,000 during the course of his or her lifetime. The average immigrant with only a high school education creates a lifetime fiscal burden of $31,000.”

    2. There is little evidence that the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of illegals will do much better. Samuel Huntington looked at this subject in his book, “Who Are We”. See Table 9.1 on page 234 or The bottom line is that educational attainment rises from the first to the second generation and then plateaus at levels far below the national average. For example, even by the fourth generation only 9.6% of Mexican-Americans have a post-high school degree.

    3. The Heritage foundation found that low-skill immigrant households impose huge tax costs on Americans. See “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer” ( The summary is

    “In FY 2004, low-skill immigrant households received $30,160 per household in immediate benefits and services (direct benefits, means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services). In general, low-skill immigrant households received about $10,000 more in government benefits than did the average U.S. household, largely
    because of the higher level of means-tested welfare benefits received by low-skill immigrant households. In contrast, low-skill immigrant households pay less in taxes than do other households. On average, low-skill immigrant households paid only $10,573 in taxes in FY 2004. Thus, low-skill immigrant households received nearly three dollars in immediate benefits and services for each dollar in taxes paid. A household’s net fiscal deficit equals the cost of benefits and services received minus taxes paid. When the costs
    of direct and means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services are counted, the average low-skill household had a fiscal deficit of $19,588 (expenditures of $30,160 minus $10,573 in taxes).”

    4. Heather MacDonald has written extensively on the bleak realities of mass unskilled immigration. I recommend “Seeing Today’s Immigrants Straight” ( Key quote

    “If someone proposed a program to boost the number of Americans who lack a high school diploma, have children out of wedlock, sell drugs, steal, or use welfare, he’d be deemed mad. Yet liberalized immigration rules would do just that. The illegitimacy rate among Hispanics is high and rising faster than that of other ethnic groups; their dropout rate is the highest in the country; Hispanic children are joining gangs at younger and younger ages. Academic achievement is abysmal.”

    5. Edward P. Lazear’s (CEA / Harvard Economics) paper “Mexican Assimilation in the United States” has a wealth of statistics showing the raw deal from south of the border. Summary quote.

    “By almost any measure, immigrants from Mexico have performed worse and become
    assimilated more slowly than immigrants from other countries. Still, Mexico is a huge country, with many high ability people who could fare very well in the United States. Why have Mexicans done so badly? The answer is primarily immigration policy.”

    See also “Lazear on Immigration” ( Money quote

    “Immigrants from Mexico do far worse when they migrate to the United States than do immigrants from other countries. Those difficulties are more a reflection of U.S. immigration policy than they are of underlying cultural differences. The following facts from the 2000 U.S. Census reveal that Mexican immigrants do not move into mainstream American society as rapidly as do other immigrants.”

    You can read the rest over at the Borjas blog.

  2. Francis says:

    The major problem that once immigrants–either legal or of illegal status over how many years, they could bring in a whole spectrum of family. Chain migration has silently snowballed from the 1986 Immigration bill. Since that law was passed the Congress has quietly passed six amnesties, without any explanation, while at the same time admitting over a million new legal immigrants a year through a lottery of specific working visas. The Dream Act if passed is just another stealth type back door amnesty. Hopefully in our future—the TEA PARTY—will put an end to this serious pretense of each administration supposedly working for the populace. Don’t give any Senator or Representative breathing room, and should get a cordial call the Washington Switchboard 202-224-3121 Until the Dream Act is amended–it must not be voted on–as is.

    Any Student–come to that any illegal alien can join the military in time of conflict. One does not need the Dream Act to be recruited into the armed forces, using 8 USC § 1440, these illegal aliens can become naturalized citizens through expedited processing, often obtaining U.S. citizenship in six months?

    It should be remembered for every legal or illegal immigrant who settles here, brings many more immediate family groups. Every year millions come to America who already has a legal or illegal family component, who offers either a safe haven or an affidavit of support; who they sponsor. When an illegal alien is caught along the border, the US agents ask that individual where are they are going. The majority answer I have a brother, or uncle in Denver, Salt Lake City or other major hub, who has a job for me. This is almost a perpetual loop of the same story over and over again. Alas, there is not enough room to explain what is happening around America in regards to this issue. It has become paramount quandary in so many ways and is just as urgent as the Start treaty, the tax conundrum, “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” and other issues. In fact the illegal immigration problem has got so out of hand; because of astronomical costs it’s threatening the livelihood of every American. IT’S A FINANCIAL catastrophe, which has grown out of control. The illegal immigration problem has been caused by years of neglect and now the only way the federal authorities can tamper down the burning fuse, is some kind of mass amnesty. Why should US citizens have to compete with foreign nationals? Why should legal construction workers or a laborer in any other job, have to compete with Contractors who hire foreign workers? When is this injustice to the American population going to end?

    Remember that–CHAIN MIGRATION–puts the United States in serious peril, even more so than the original sponsors. Learn much more about the OVERPOPULATION and its risks to the environment, infrastructure and quality of life at NumbersUSA The Dream Act in itself not a menace, although at least a 800.000 students would be eligible if they abide by the law? The only immigration law that should be demanded is to make illegal entrance into the United States a felony, with no excuses and no exceptions. This includes businesses that are twice caught hiring illegal workers, should be subject to a harsh fine, confiscation of business assets and after the second conviction—prison! It’s blatantly obvious to me, that for years Washington has deceived the American people of both political parties. There has been no intention of enforcing immigration laws and this is proven without doubt. If illegal immigration had severe consequences, such as the above penalties the only enforcement program needed would be E-Verify mandated for every business owner. The majority of other restriction tools needed to halt the free flow of desperate, destitute people would radically decline; knowing that you would be convicted of a class “A” felony would collapse the ongoing flow.

    This would be huge disincentive to economic foreign nationals crossing our borders, or using the excuse of being a tourist, fully aware they are not leaving once their visa runs out. No! There has been no true intention of halting illegal aliens coming here for work, or to commit crimes. Both Democrats and Republicans have remained impassive to the invasion, whether its 13 million or 20 million foreigners who have skirted our laws; of course that’s according which side of the Washington pecking order you are inclined to believe? Over thirty years of government neglect has brought this nightmare upon us, of incessant crimes against lawful citizens and permanent residents. Americans land owners living in constant fear along the 2000 miles of mostly unprotected border. Both political parties irrationally forget who pays their salaries and pensions while American find their wages sinking and the majority of Social programs of having to share these entitlements with illegal labor and their families.

    Around the country, we have activist judges who ignore the US constitution and instead construe the law according to personal political orientation. Even now Arizona is under bombardment from open border radicals, or pro business entities, who do not want this Border States policing laws to be upheld. Then again the IRS is complicit in allowing illegal aliens to squat here, by issuing ITIN numbers, as foreigners cannot possess a real Social Security card. Over the last ten years we have seen an escalation in ID theft, with the courts saying this is not classed as a felony. Another concealed point is that illegal alien workers are collecting billions of dollars in income tax refunds, for children who don’t exist or filing for the same child twice by each parent. For those people who believe that this is an embellishment, one only has to Google key words–illegal alien costs; illegal alien income tax refunds.

    There are highly regarded reports on the expenditures of federal, state and county support of foreign nationals that you as the taxpayer is erroneously paying. Sanctuary States like California under Liberal progressive control in Sacramento is depleting the state of billions of dollars, as they subsidize the millions in just Los Angeles County alone? The schools are in turmoil from overcrowding of children of illegal families, who by mandated law must be educated. In understaffed county hospitals have become places of last resort, for the multitudes of foreign nationals who live below the poverty line, so they are dependent on taxpayers. California has become an incubator for hundreds of thousands of illegal pregnant females, who collect under their new citizens-babies, namely billions of more dollars soaked from you and me.

    Their children are a valuable commodity, because our 14th amendment law has been with intent compromised, so that children of illegal aliens are issued food stamps, low income housing and a large profusion of cash payment and other freebies. All these entitlements should not be going to people who should not be here? These illegal women are already aware that once the stand on our soil, that the US taxpayer will support them and all their children. Until we halt the illegal immigration occupation of this country, we a steadily heading for a irrevocable overpopulation. The only way anything will ever get accomplished is by Americans pressing incessantly their Senator or Congressman. As the Tea Party grows this organization has a commitment to the people—because they are THE PEOPLE. They owe no favors to left wing Unions, big corporations or the open border zealots. They are the TEA PARTY. They are AMERICA.

  3. Steven Donegal says:

    Lighten up, Francis.

  4. John Kettlewell says:

    Got here from Reihan from NRO. Tremendously perceptive paragraph to end with Mr. Lee. It’s like a ‘marinating philosophy’. Lemon-pepper chicken is best made when the marinade is allowed to ‘soak in’ for a period of time. DADT is also applicable to this strategy. Speaking of that form of manipulation, I also noticed you used the phrase “undocumented immigrants”. That confers ‘let’s put em in the system and give them papers’ since they’re here and there’s nothing wrong with that. Well there is.

    Awesome comment Francis, very true and well-laid out.

    Disclaimer: I’m for ceasing immigration till we fix what we have and then decide how to proceed for the country. Securing the borders is an unmovable goal. In addition to immigration, eventually terrorists will go the route that millions take yearly.

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