President Obama’s latest amnesty effort is not only a lawless act and an end run around the legislative process, it is also an attempt to mislead the public. Supporters of the plan describe the administrative Dream Act as a limited policy change that will benefit young children brought to the United States through no fault of their own. A closer reading dispels a number of myths.
Myth No. 1: “It will only benefit 800,000 people.” The White House claims that this administrative Dream Act will benefit 800,000 illegal aliens, but even the left-leaning Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 1.4 million aliens qualify for the amnesty. These estimates assume no fraud; the number of qualified aliens is not the same as the number of aliens who will ultimately benefit from the plan. Amnesties are notorious for encouraging fraud. In 1989, the Brookings Institution’s Roberto Suro accurately described the 1986 amnesty as “one of the most extensive immigration frauds ever perpetrated against the United States government,” noting “federal officials and immigration experts place the number of fraudulent applications at somewhere between 250,000 and 650,000.” That was when the nation’s total illegal alien population was less than half of what it is today. Mr. Obama’s administrative Dream Act will likely benefit thousands of people who are technically ineligible.
Myth No. 2: “It’s for those with no criminal history.” Advocates claim that the plan requires a background check and would only benefit illegal aliens who have led “law-abiding lives,” many of whom are “already working.” Yet illegal aliens who hold jobs have acquired their positions through deception and are often engaged in identification theft, Social Security fraud, and I-9 form fraud, just to name a few crimes. While this lawlessness creates real victims, it is unlikely to turn up during a background check because most illegal aliens have not been prosecuted for these crimes as a result of the Obama administration’s existing policy of giving “low-level offenders” a pass. Additionally, an illegal alien’s background is potentially unknowable. Many illegal aliens use a number of aliases during their stay in the United States, making a background check difficult. A background check is unlikely to include a search of foreign databases, meaning that aliens with a serious rap sheet in their home country will not raise any flags. Amnesties are notorious for granting legal status to problematic individuals - such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombers - and there is no reason to believe this plan would be any different.
Myth No. 3: “It’s for children brought here by their parents.” The plan would benefit illegal aliens up to age 30, not just youths. Since there is no penalty for fraudulent applications, older illegal aliens will likely benefit as well. Furthermore, the plan does not include any language requiring applicants to prove they were “brought” into the United States by their parents. Mr. Obama’s order would benefit illegal aliens who willfully and knowingly snuck into the United States and it is well known that teenage illegal aliens frequently enter the United States illegally on their own volition. While children who are brought into the United States by their parents may be a sympathetic group, the purpose of this plan is to provide amnesty for a much larger, legally culpable population.
Myth No. 4: “They must have lived in United States for five continuous years.” In immigration law, “continuous residence” does not actually require an alien to be continuously resident in the United States. For example, an alien seeking naturalization must also prove five years of continuous residency, but that can still be met even if the alien has been absent from the country for up to six months. Even multiple six-month absences over the course of five years is not a problem. If Mr. Obama’s plan follows precedent, the residency requirement will not mean much.
Myth No. 5: “It will not lead to citizenship.” The White House knows it cannot get an amnesty through Congress, so the new goal is to provide illegal aliens with many benefits of U.S. citizenship today, so that full citizenship becomes a matter of filling out paperwork tomorrow. After illegal aliens are granted work permits, why shouldn’t they receive driver’s licenses so that they can get to work? With a driver’s license, the alien can open a bank account, get a loan, establish credit and so forth. Eventually, the illegal alien acquires all of the benefits of U.S. citizenship with few civic responsibilities. Mr. Obama’s administrative Dream Act is one of many efforts to put illegal aliens on a pathway to citizenship.
While a more focused and narrowly tailored Dream Act designed to only benefit young children with no legal or moral culpability might be worthwhile, Mr. Obama’s move simply goes too far.
Jon Feere is a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.