New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s opinion piece found in February 7, 2013’s edition of Newsday, Silver: New York shouldn’t wait for Washington; pass NYS Dream Act , betrays the contempt that the American left holds for the rule of law and for our Constitution. Hoping to obfuscate the real issue, Silver cites examples of two New York high school students who have excelled in their studies, only to have their dreams of attending college dashed not because there are legal bars preventing them from applying and enrolling at institutions of higher education in New York (no such bars exist), but because the government “failed to act” and create “equal access” to financial aid for these students, who are the children of illegal immigrants.
I take exception to Speaker Silver’s laying the blame for these students’ not being able to afford college on our government. That responsibility rests solely with the child’s parents who made a choice to come here illegally. While that choice may have been the best option available to his or her parents given the lack of opportunities in their home countries, that choice still has consequences. In this case, it may mean deferring college until enough money has been saved to attend a public institution while Congress sorts out the complicated issue of illegal immigration.
There is a sensible solution that gives the children of illegal immigrants legal status under the law, perhaps some of which can be found in the bi-partisan proposal spearheaded by Senator Marco Rubio. This legislation should be acted upon swiftly by the federal government, which is empowered to make immigration law and maintain the defense of the borders. In New York, however, by granting the children of illegal immigrants “equal access” to financial aid, the state would essentially be creating a new government entitlement program of grants-in-aid to these students. With zero taxable income (their parents are here illegally and therefore cannot work legally or pay taxes), these students who are impoverished on paper would undoubtedly be eligible for the most generous of aid packages– not loans, but grants which do not have to be paid back. The same holds true for other states which have passed or are considering Dream-type legislation.
Sheldon Silver frames this as an issue of equality. He is partially correct. This is an issue of equality, but of equality under the law. Until legal status is granted to these illegal immigrants and their children, they have come to the United States illegally and do not have equal standing under our Constitution. While this contention will probably offend many liberals and certainly upset the average low information voter who votes based on feelings and emotions, the fact is that the Supreme Court has ruled on this very issue and has confirmed that those here illegally do not have equal standing under the law ( Demore v. Kim, 538 US 510 – 2003 ).
The NYS Dream Act plays to the heartstrings of voters who acknowledge the dreams of any young person, and who probably hope for the same for their own children. This is straight out of the Democrat playbook: conjure up intensely sympathetic personal anecdotes, work on voters’ emotions, and offer feelings as the reason for changing or creating law. Speaker Silver and many other liberal politicians would have you leave reason and the rule of law out of it.
We face a critical turn as a nation when it comes to the rule of law and whether or not the equal application of that law actually matters. By first dealing with the illegal immigrants who are here now without first securing our borders does a disservice to the immigrant community Silver writes so warmly about. It devalues the struggles of the legal immigrants among us who have followed the rules to attain residence and citizenship in the United States. It also holds in contempt the very things that made America exceptional: hard work, struggle, and the passing on of dreams from one generation to the next. The oil fields, highways, factories, and cities of this country were not built by a culture obsessed with instant gratification. Nor did our ancestors embark upon this great American experiment with an assumption that because a person feels badly about the choices available to a child given the circumstances of his or her parents’ immigration status that we ought to forget the rule of law and shower that family with government benefits. Therefore, the concept of a NYS Dream Act should be tabled until Congress has had time to act. Congress should act quickly to secure the borders and set up a reasonable pathway to citizenship for all those currently here who are willing to pay taxes, get to the back of the line, and eventually do their part as citizens of the United States. The New York State Legislature should, until Congress has acted, stay out of it.
Kyle Sabo | Hunter College