Home > Conor Friedersdorf, David Frum, Immigration, Will Wilkinson > DREAM or Nightmare, pt II

DREAM or Nightmare, pt II

As promised I wanted to post David Frum’s responses to Will Wilkinson’s critique. You can read part I here if you’re unfamiliar with the original arguments. Excerpts from his responses below. Click the links to read the full replies.

Frum 1:

Immigration proponents are so convinced that more immigration is good in itself that they do not always worry as much as they should about the way in which they achieve their aims. They sell huge society-changing transformations as small incremental steps.

When the sales pitch proves wrong or hugely exaggerated, they seem untroubled. Wilkinson’s own blitheness perfectly exemplifies the pattern. Running through his first post is a persistent undertone that the very idea of immigration laws is a big mistake. “Yes, the DREAM Act also incentivises illegal activity. But if the activity is not one that ought to be illegal, perhaps we should consider changing the law?”

Frum 2:

But it’s just fanciful to imagine that the secondary beneficiaries of the DREAM amnesty will be substantial taxpayers. The parents and siblings of the people who will be amnestied under DREAM will be poorly educated, low-skilled, and likely to qualify for a range of services from food stamps to Section 8 housing to Medicaid and then very likely Medicare and Social Security. DREAM means millions of new claimants on US public services and billions of dollars in new costs for the federal government and the states. As CIS calculates today, simply the subsidies for DREAM beneficiaries’ college tuitions will cost $6.2 billion a year.

Frum 3:

In other words: yes it was true (sorry Will!) that previous versions of the DREAM act offered amnesty to the illegal immigrant parents of DREAM beneficiaries. Yes it was true (sorry again!) that the bill offered large subsidies to people currently present in the country illegally. Yes it was true (sorry once more!) that the legal language about “good character” didn’t mean very much. And yes it was true (sorry a fourth time!) that the bill potentially applied to many more people than the 60,000 or so Wilkinson mentioned in his very first post.

The good news is that the fixes offered by the Democrats constitute a genuine improvement in the law that address the concerns whose reality Wilkinson was denying just the day before yesterday. And with a few more improvements, the law could be on its way to being a genuine humanitarian measure.

I’m not aware if Wilkinson has since responded, but here’s a good Forbes blog post written by Conor Friedersdorf, a senior editor at The Daily Dish, with an interesting take on immigration, the DREAM act, and the Frum/Wilkinson kerfuffle.

[The] mere possibility of fraud exists in any immigration system. That it could theoretically happen is irrelevant. David Frum wants more highly skilled immigrants to be admitted to the United States. Wouldn’t applicants under that system have “new opportunities” to commit fraud? And is it really so bad if someone who came here at age 17 instead of age 16, stayed out of trouble, and went to college ends up wrongfully slipping in? I am not much troubled by the prospect, especially since absent the legislation he’ll still be in the United States, just illegally. And the range of folks who could commit this kind of fraud is very small. A 28 year old is going to have a hard time passing himself off as years younger. 16 is an arbitrary line. If we wind up getting some 17 and 18 year olds we’ll still wind up ahead.

Frum is basically right that immigration proponents think immigration is so good that we often fail to worry about the drawbacks of different ways of achieving that goal. I plead guilty to a certain extent. I do think legal immigration is that beneficial. But I should try to better emphasize the downsides of different approaches (I think it is more of a matter of emphasis not recognition). In honor of that, go read the David Frum links on the shortcomings.

Ok, done? Even with all the potential and actual flaws, the DREAM act greatly improves the lives of responsible young adults whose only home is the United States at either little cost or even benefit to US citizens as a whole. Compassion often means accepting some downsides.

[Update] Conor has more to say here responding to Reihan Salam.

What I do think is that longtime residents of the United States brought here by illegal immigrant parents during childhood are in a unique position: through no fault of their own, they’ve long resided in a country where they don’t have a legal right to live or work (partly due to an incentive system set up by American citizens who are glad to employ illegal immigrants). It’s a tragedy for the affected kids. Economically they’re better off than lots of people in Third World countries who’d like to come here. But life is more than economics. Unlike would-be immigrants, potential Dream Act beneficiaries have developed friendships, formed romances, an invested themselves into communities in the United States. All that will be lost if they are forced to leave, and along with American complicity in their plight

(via The Daily Dish)

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