...with a claim that we should not do a good thing because we are not going to do an even better thing. Nomination entered by Timothy Lee:
The Implicit Message of the DREAM Act | Bottom-up: I have a lot of respect for my friend Reihan Salam, but boy was this frustrating to read:
As I understand it, the DREAM Act implicitly tells us that I should value the children of unauthorized immigrants more than the children of other people living in impoverished countries. If we assume that all human beings merit equal concern, this is obviously nonsensical. Indeed, all controls on migration are suspect under that assumption. Even so, there is a broad consensus that the United States has a right to control its borders, and that the American polity can decide who will be allowed to settle in the United States. Or to put this another way, we’ve collectively decided that the right to live and work in the U.S. will be treated as a scarce good...
So look, there are two basic ways to look at a political issue: on the policy merits and on how it fits into broader ideological narratives. On the policy merits, the case for DREAM is simple and compelling: there are hundreds of thousands of kids who, through no fault of their own, are trapped in a kind of legal limbo. We should provide them with some way to get out of that legal limbo. I can think of any number of ways to improve the DREAM Act, but this is the only bill with a realistic chance of passing Congress in the near future, and it’s a lot better than nothing.... We should let the DREAM kids stay here and we should be letting a lot more kids from poorer countries come here. Doing the one doesn’t in any way prevent us from doing the other.
OK, so that’s the policy substance. Now let’s talk about the politics.... Reihan is, I take it... [claiming] that DREAM helps a relatively small number of people, that the people it helps aren’t necessarily the most deserving, and that DREAM reinforces an objectionable political narrative.
I don’t think any of these claims stand up to scrutiny....
[D]oes passing DREAM “implicitly tell us” something we’d rather not be told? This is where I think Reihan is furthest off base.... [T]he fundamental question in the immigration debate is: do we recognize immigrants as fellow human beings... entitled to... empathy... or... treat them as opponents in a zero-sum world?... Most recent immigration reform proposals... are based on the latter premise: immigrants in general are yucky, but certain immigrants are so useful to the American economy that we’ll hold our collective noses and let them in under tightly control conditions.
The DREAM Act is different. The pro-DREAM argument appeals directly to Americans’ generosity and sense of fairness.... The hoops kids must go through to qualify for DREAM are focused on self-improvement for the kids themselves.... There’s no quota on the number of kids who are eligible, and at the end of the process the kids get to be full-fledged members of the American community. Nothing about this says that we should “value the children of unauthorized immigrants more than the children of other people living in impoverished countries.” I wish Congress would also enact legislation to help children of people living in impoverished countries. If Reihan has a realistic plan for doing that, I’ll be among its earliest and most enthusiastic supporters. Unfortunately, I think the political climate in the United States makes that unlikely to happen any time soon. But that’s not the fault of the DREAM Act or its supporters. And voting down DREAM will make more ambitious reforms less, not more, likely.