Just One Week before Christmas

Summary: The “Dream Act” seemed to come and go so quickly in the news cycle. Legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” plus the hoped-for treaty with the  Soviets  pushed the failed bill off the media’s radar screen.

I wrote this post Saturday, but then didn’t put it up on Health Beat because I felt I wasn’t adding anything new to the debate. (Ask long-time Health Beat readers “What do you think Maggie thinks about the Dream Act”? and many could probably write the post themselves.) But as I thought about it, it seems to me that I do have something to say.

We should stop to grieve for these students. And we should put the Dream Act at the top of a liberal agenda next year. I realize that as the Tea Party joins Congress, it will be harder to welcome new immigrants to this country. But the Latino vote will be extraordinarily important in 2012. If only for political reasons, liberals should show their support for this legislation—and force conservatives to try to justify cutting off opportunities for 17-year-olds who live in this country.
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One of my son’s friends from college teaches at a high school in Los Angeles. Most of her students are poor, and some of them are illegal. Typically they were born in another country, and their parents brought them here when they were very young.

When she visited us a few years ago, she talked about how heart-breaking it is to see some of these kids working so hard in high school—especially their senior year—knowing that they probably will never go to college. In order to apply for college loans and grants, you need a Social Security number. Because they’re illegal, they can’t get one. This makes senior year of high school their last shot at an education. 

Some are very talented and very bright. (See this story from the Chicago Tribune) They do well in school. They would qualify for financial aid.

But the Senate decided to dash their hopes once again by voting against legislation that would have let them become citizens if they:

  •  came to this country when they were under 15 (and had little choice but to follow their parents)
  •  have lived here for at least five years
  •  have graduated from high school
  •  attend college for two years or serve two years in the U.S. military

Even though they cannot become citizens, most of these teen-agers will probably stay here for the rest of their lives. For the majority, the U.S. is the only home that they have ever known. For many, English is their first language.

But they won’t get the education they want and need. Some will wind up unemployed. If they don’t have health insurance, they will remain among the uninsured even after health care reform is implemented. When they become sick, or wind up in an accident, we all will pay somewhat higher insurance premiums so that hospitals can absorb the cost of caring for them.

Their ability to contribute to the economy will be stunted. The likelihood that they will be able to provide a good education for their own children will be undercut. If this country is going to be able to compete globally in the years to come, we will need more educated workers.

The Senate bill, which failed on a 55-41 vote, split along partisan lines. It would have required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, had passed the Dream Act with a 216-198 vote on Dec. 8.

I cannot imagine how any lawmaker voted against “The Dream Act” exactly one week before Christmas—and two weeks before the dawn of a new year.

The New York Times reports that dozens of students who would have been eligible for legalization under the bill gathered in the Senate gallery to watch the vote. “They squeezed one another’s hands when the final result was read out, and many cried.” Are we trying to punish these students for a decision their parents made?

Maybe some Senators were concerned that if these kids are added to the pool of applicants, fewer loans and scholarships would be available for American citizens.

If so, they should vote to increase the amount of aid that the federal government offers to college students. After all, conservatives seem to have decided that it’s okay to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit in order to help multi-millionaires. Why not help hard-working kids who want to better themselves—either by joining the U.S. military or by going to college?  If we want the economy to recover, we should be investing in human capital.

9 thoughts on “Just One Week before Christmas

  1. Those opposing the Dream Act should attempt to come up with an alternate solution. Perhaps it would help them realize the value in encouraging, developing and retaining talented youth.

  2. Tebaldo–
    The problem is that closing the border is far more easily said than done.
    And, unfortunately, many conservatives do not share your desire to give immigrants a path to citizenship. Many
    object to the fact that the Latino population is growing, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future, white people will be a minority in this country.
    My son-in-law is Latino and so I am not just concerned about the Latino vote–I am concerned about the population.
    He and his family are here legally, but I have a good friend has been here illegally for about 30 ysears. He has a good job, is an excellent worker, father of two, and a very responsible, kind person. But he has not been able to get papers. (He is from Mexico).
    The laws regarding citizenship are very complicated, and not fair in many ways. As you no doubt know, if someone has enough money to pay the right lawyer, they can become legal. In other words, citizenship can be bought. (I know someone who did that. After about 15 years, it was the only way she could become a citizen. She went to college here, working her way through college and continuing to work hard after college. Ultimately she saved enough money to
    buy a lawyer who could “expedite” her case (the polite term for paying off someone to put the case through.)
    Btw,my son-in-law and many Latinos who I know are progressives. They do not hate the U.S.–but they do hate the racism in the U.S. that is often expressed by those who want to “close the borders.”
    Finally, a great many illegal immigrants do jobs in NYC (and probably in LA as well) that American citizens won’t take– washing dishes in restaurants, cleaning office buildings at night . . They are not taking jobs away from Americans.
    A friend owns a very good restaurant, and when he puts an ad in the newspaper for a dishwasher (paying minimum wage) almost all of the people who show up to apply are immigrants.
    We need the immigrants. Rather than closing the borders, we should make it easier for them to come here legally, on guest visas that are renewable indefinitely–as long as they don’t commit a crime. IF they want to work here and raise their children here, they should be able to do that.
    They and their families should have full access to healthcare and education.
    This country is made up of immigrants. The only difference is skin color–most of the first immmigrants who came here voluntarily were white.

  3. The phrase “protect” or “close” the border is a clearly cynical political slogan. There is no way to protect the border from people strongly motivated by economic advantage. The history of efforts to stop illegal border crossing has shown that if people don’t cross at San Diego they will cross in Arizona, if they don’t cross in Arizona they will cross in Texas, if they can’t run or wade across they will come smuggled in vehicles or through tunnels, if they can’t do that they will come smuggled in boats, etc. etc. The lessons here are exactly the same as the lessons from attempts at drug interdiction. All that efforts at stronger attempts of interdiction do is drive up prices and profits for smugglers, making it certain that someone will find a way to bring in what people want.
    The solution is the same: cut demand. Only by stopping employers from hiring undocumented workers will uncontrolled immigration stop. The latest trends of allowing employers to hire workers as long as they have fairly reasonable fake ID, putting the only penalty on the worker, not the employer, is just another failed policy. Recession has been more successful at decreasing the number of people smuggling themselves into the country than any other program.
    The only way to stop all this, if we really want to, is to require that ALL Americans carry a national ID that is very hard to fake (including a picture that can be read from a computer code to match the picture on the card would be one way to accomplish this without any revolutionary technology changes,) coupled with significant penalties for employers caught employing people without the ID. That would mean, however, that employers would no longer have a steady supply of people willing to work for low wages under poor conditions and be afraid to protest against their treatment or about being cheated. In addition, most of the very same right wingers who are so eager to stop and punish smuggled workers are very reluctant to see that level of government involvement in their own lives. So are a lot of left wing people. As Will Rogers said, “You pays your money and you takes your choice.”
    “Protecting our borders” is merely a political slogan to justify avoiding any legal changes that address the situation of immigrants forever. Some people are undoubtedly mislead by this rhetoric and are honest in their support of it, but the people who are creating the slogan are certainly aware that it is a lie.
    Meanwhile millions of young people, placed in this situation through no fault of their own, raised as Americans, working hard, and ready to make valuable contributions to our country (including having military authorities drooling over the possibility of getting them) are subject to persecution and “return” to countries they never lived in. That is just plain cruel, but cruelty is not unusual in our current political world.
    I think this was best summed up by the slogan of the protests a few years ago: “Hard work and ambition are not crimes.” Until more Americans understand that and work to remedy this situation, it will only get worse, rhetoric about the border notwithstanding.

  4. Pat–
    Thank you for another thoughtful comment.
    You write:
    “”Protecting our borders’ is merely a political slogan to justify avoiding any legal changes that address the situation of immigrants forever. Some people are undoubtedly mislead by this rhetoric and are honest in their support of it, but the people who are creating the slogan are certainly aware that it is a lie.
    “Meanwhile millions of young people, placed in this situation through no fault of their own, raised as Americans, working hard, and ready to make valuable contributions to our country (including having military authorities drooling over the possibility of getting them) are subject to persecution and “return” to countries they never lived in. That is just plain cruel, but cruelty is not unusual in our current political world.
    I think this was best summed up by the slogan of the protests a few years ago: “Hard work and ambition are not crimes.” Until more Americans understand that and work to remedy this situation, it will only get worse, rhetoric about the border notwithstanding?”.
    Yes.That was exactly what I was trying to say.
    I would quibble only with the part of you post where you write:
    ” Only by stopping employers from hiring undocumented workers will uncontrolled immigration stop. The latest trends of allowing employers to hire workers as long as they have fairly reasonable fake ID, putting the only penalty on the worker, not the employer, is just another failed policy.”
    It is not that easy for employers to figure out who is illegal. My friend (the restaurant owner) always asked for SS numbers, but many illegals havea fake SS numbers. (Or can buy one if they find a job.)
    Also, in NYC, and many other parts of the country where illegals are not migrant workers, picking crops, etc., they are paid the legal minimum wage.
    More to the point, not only do they do jobs American citizens won’t take, they work harder and do them better. My restauratuer friend found that he could train many of these dishwashers to become sous-chefs (cutting, chopping,etc–utlimately working up tto cooking lunch. And as they moved up, he raised their pay to the same levela he pai other sos-chefs, etc.)
    They needed the job; they were very happy to be promoted, and, I’m sorry to say, their work ethic was generally much better than that of many native-born Americans who applied for sous-chef jobs.

  5. Sam–
    You write that perhaps those who oppose the Dream Act should
    “come up with an alternate solution. Perhaps it would help them realize the value in encouraging, developing and retaining talented youth.”
    Thank you. I could’t agree more.
    But what I don’t know is how to peruade Congress (and the American public)) that this is what we should do.
    Though I do believe that if enough of us get behind what you say– and are committed– we could turn things around.

  6. Maggie —
    “It is not that easy for employers to figure out who is illegal.”
    That is definitely true. It puts honest employers in a difficult position and puts employers willing to skate along the line of illegality in a position where they have cover. Many employers, including some very large ones, are well aware that some of their employees are undocumented (although less certain of exactly which ones,) but are perfectly happy with that situation, while some, like your friend, are in a quandary trying to honestly comply with the law without hiring detectives to investigate employees.
    My point is that if people are really serious about stopping illegal employment — and that is the only realistic way to stop immigration violations on any effective scale — the only choice is to improve the ID so that it becomes nearly impossible to cheat. The simplest way I have ever seen to do that is to require a national ID that is synched to a national government run internet data base. The employee presents the card, and the employer then uses data from the card to access an internet file that contains a picture and description of the person, allowing them to verify that they are indeed looking at a person with a legal work visa or a citizen and that the person presenting is in fact the person who matches the file. This would of course “require” that every employer have internet access, but today almost everyone does, many even via their cell phones.
    The whole problem with this approach is that first, it puts the onus back on the employer, many of whom are happy today being allowed to accept more sketchy ID. Second, it raises issues about government ID that are upsetting to libertarians and civil liberty people on both sides of the political spectrum.
    Without this or some similarly stringent national ID system (and to work and be constitutionally legal it would have to apply to everyone, including you and me,) we are stuck in a system that pays lip service to the notion that we want to restrict undocumented immigration but maintain strong incentives for people to come to the US illegally and stay and raise their children here.

  7. Maggie —
    “Also, in NYC, and many other parts of the country where illegals are not migrant workers, picking crops, etc., they are paid the legal minimum wage.”
    Unfortunately, that is often not true. Although some workers are paid well, in some cases well above the minimum wage, large scale violations of wage and hour laws are a fact of life for many undocumented workers, even in supposedly enlightened places.
    My daughter is a lawyer who specializes in employment law for a non-profit serving low income people in New York City. She spends a good share of her time bringing cases to court for violation of minimum wage standards by employers in NYC. The workers involved work in the restaurant business, as nannies and other domestic workers, as cleaners in buildings, and in other low wage jobs, and are frequently systematically cheated by their employers. The most egregious case she was involved with featured an employer — a fairly well known restaurant — who paid seven employees, many working more than full time, a total of $27,000 on average over a period of years — that’s $27,000 a year total dollars for all seven put together, not $27,000 each. This was actually documented in his records.
    Many if not most of these cheaters employ large numbers of illegal workers. They actually probably prefer that, because they know that the workers are afraid to involve the law for fear of being deported.
    New York (and the US) has strong laws to try to prevent this, including regulations allowing illegal immigrants to pursue cases without being prosecuted for immigration issues. The New York Attorney General’s office has launched some large scale enforcement efforts from time to time to address this issue. However most enforcement occurs only when the employees bring the violations to the attention of the law. Many people with illegal status are afraid to do so because of their illegal status, so the employers can exploit the workers with little fear of being held accountable.

  8. Pat S.–
    It’s great that your daughter is helping these people.
    Unfortunately, she sees the worst side of how illegal immigrants are treated in N.Y.
    Over 25 years I have known a great many immigrants in New York City–some legal some illegal. And yes, New York City’s laws are strict. For this reason, the restaurant people I know through my friend all pay minimum wage, or more. It’s a pretty competitive market.
    Chinatown is the one place where immigrants are regularly underpaid–and not treated well.
    I’ve also hired many immigrants: landscapers (I garden on my terrace), painters, carpenters, a number of people who have cleaned my apt. over the years . ..
    When I first moved to NY I did a gut renovation of my apt. I acted as my own contractor and hired two young men from Yugoslavia who did most of the work– excellent craftsmen (they learned their trade working in Western Europe) . They built cabinets, laid wood floors, redesigned a staircase, replaced all of the doors, installed sliding glass doors, put up walls, new electrical wiring etc. They spoke sketchy English, but were great guys. I paid them whatever they asked for each project, as did friends who they worked for later on. At the time, they were illegal, though now one of them is a citizen.
    They became friends, as did a landscaper I’ve known for 25 years as well as the person who now cleans my apartment. All receive more than minimum wage. The going rate for apt-cleaning in New York is $25 an hour. The woman who does my apt.. is Colombian, was illegal for many years, but still received the going rate. She always has had more work than she needs, and from time to time has dropped clients because they were rude. (Spoke to her her as if she were a servant –or a slave.)
    Her husband, also Colombian, is an auto mechanic who repairs very expensive foreign cars out in the Hamptons. He too was illegal for many years, but well-paid. (It’s hard to find a good mechanic). Now that he’s legal he is paid more and gets Social Security & health benefits.
    The landscaper, from Mexico, also is paid well over $25 an hour. He has never been able to get papers., but nevertheless has become the top managers at the largest nursery/landscaper in New York City where his boss depends on him to essentially run the business. .
    Demand for these workers is high. The person who cleans my apt. has dropped a number of clients over the years–not because they didn’t pay enough, but because they were rude. If she doesn’t like you, she won’t clean your house. She has more work than she needs so she can afford to do this.)
    I don’t’ know anyone in New York (including restaurant owners and someone who owns a number of apartment buildings) who don’t pay immigrants either minimum wage or whatever they ask–whether or not they’re legal. (The general feeling is that if you haggle with someone about pay before they begin working for you, there will always be lingering resentment.
    In a restaurant, the worker is more likely to steal from you; if they work in your home it will be uncomfortable and they probably won’t do their best work.
    (I can’t even imagine underpaying a nanny and then entrusting your child to her care. But I have heard some people from the suburubs complain about the cost of nannies. Then they’re Shocked! that the nanny lets the baby cry.)
    So the situation for many illegal immigrants and employers in N.Y.C. is quite good. Employers can find skilled workers with a good work ethic, immigrants can find employers like me or my friends who value their work and pay what they ask.
    Many liberals in New York, though there are, of course, also many sleazy businessmen. So no doubt many people do need your daughter.
    Also, I suspect that some of the immigrants who are afraid to go to the authorities work for people who they fear–people who might do them physical harm if they turnerd them in. Many immigrants know about the law–they talk to each other, have a good grapevine, give each other advice . . .