DREAM Over: Illegal Alien Student Amnesty Awakens to Fiscal Reality

Ira Mehlman

12/3/2008 1:59:58 PM - Ira Mehlman

Even as the illegal alien advocacy lobby is frantically trying to spin the election of Barack Obama as a mandate for a sweeping amnesty, they have all but conceded that the economic crisis and worsening unemployment have probably doomed their efforts. They’ve set their sights on the more modest goals of achieving amnesty for segments of the illegal alien population and using those to leverage further concessions down the road.

Advocates for illegal aliens believe that the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act offers them their best hope to enact a mini-amnesty. The DREAM Act would confer amnesty on most illegal alien youths and just about anyone who could vaguely be described as a student, and guarantee them subsidized in-state tuition rates in their states of residence on the premise that as children, they are not responsible for being in the country illegally. It would also result in a de facto amnesty for many parents, and entitle these kids to sponsor other relatives in the future.

Just as suddenly as passage of the DREAM Act seemed to be within the grasp of the illegal alien amnesty lobby, it appears to be slipping away. America’s higher education system – especially public universities and colleges – is facing a crisis.

The nation’s economic woes have hit state budgets hard, as revenues have fallen and demands on services and benefits have increased. Nearly every state has increased tuition rates and cut programs, and it’s still not enough. “We have put the education system on a starvation diet, and each and every year it becomes weaker,” said California’s Lt. Governor John Garemendi. University of California Chancellor Charles Reed has publicly discussed exercising his authority to cut enrollment.

At precisely the time when California’s higher education system is “on a starvation diet” and enrollment may be slashed, demand for seats is at an all-time high. For a growing number of families an education at a private university is simply unaffordable, making a seat at a state-run school all the more coveted.

California’s crisis is also a crisis for those pushing the DREAM Act. The state that is starving its higher education system and reducing enrollment already has its own version of the DREAM Act. For the past six years, illegal aliens have been able to fill seats at public universities and colleges at taxpayer subsidized in-state tuition rates. (A state court of appeals has ruled the policy unconstitutional, but California has yet to repeal it.)

Passage of the federal DREAM Act would put every starving, malnourished, or merely hungry state higher education system in the same predicament as California’s. While public university budgets, programs, and seats fall victim to state budget crises, the DREAM Act would compel all states to provide seats and tuition breaks to newly-amnestied illegal aliens.

Backing the DREAM Act would be a body blow to the interests of the people who actually did elect Barack Obama: America’s embattled middle class. Few issues personally concern as many Americans as whether their children will be able to get the college educations they need, and how they will pay for it. Those voters are not likely to be pleased by a bill that takes educational opportunities and resources away from their own kids and turns them over to the children of illegal aliens.

A wrongheaded idea even under the best economic circumstances, amnesty for illegal aliens – in one all encompassing bill, or piecemeal – would be a disastrous misstep for the fledgling Obama administration. An idea that was flatly rejected by the American public during a period of relative prosperity and low unemployment makes even less sense in a bad economy and governments at just about every level facing record shortfalls and deficits.

Because of the economic and fiscal realities that he will soon inherit, President Obama will be compelled to make decisions that are painful to a broad swath of the electorate. If the pain is dispensed equitably the public is likely to be understanding and forgiving. If hard-working, law-abiding Americans are asked to sacrifice while people who broke our laws are rewarded and political pressure groups are paid off, the reaction will quite different – especially if it hurts their own kids.