Opinion: Toward a Bi-Partisan DREAM Act -- DREAMers Hold On

Joseph Anthony Carlos

Joseph Anthony Carlos  (Geoffrey Harris)

Will the DREAM Act pass Congress? Can the parties reach a compromise? 

The “DREAMers” are waiting.

So here is the argument: An eight-month-old child arrives in the United States, brought by parents illegally crossing the border. 

Those parents settle in an American town and go to work. The child grows, makes friends, plays baseball, and daily recites the pledge of allegiance. 

As time passes, the child graduates from high school to a flurry of letters from universities, and military recruiters.

Under current immigration law, this child (now young adult) would be deported.

Our hypothetical describes the DREAMers; they are not American citizens, nor in compliance with immigration law. Yet culturally, they are as American as apple pie.

For many, the solution is obvious – grant the child legal residence or a path to citizenship.

But for others, those bewitched by the current political debate, the problem is a mythic struggle between good and evil, a battle in which the child is somehow the antagonist.

This is not an ideological struggle.

There is no causal link between traditional-conservative values and deporting those raised in America since infancy. 

There is, however, a correlation between those who identify as conservative and those who oppose the DREAM Act. That correlation evaporates when the conservative in question is a Latino.

Concluding summary deportation a conservative ideal is the product of flawed logic. Let’s look at the usual arguments.

 They come in three flavors: 1) “amnesty”, 2) “rewarding criminals”, and 3) “chain migration”.

Let’s start with the amnesty argument.

Merriam-Webster’s defines AMNESTY as: the act of an authority, as a government, by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals. PARDON is defined as: to absolve from the consequences of a fault or crime  : to allow (an offense) to pass without punishment. 

Consistent with the plain meaning of the words, one who is blameless cannot be granted amnesty.

With respect to our hypothetical child, to ask how an eight-month-old child is at fault is to expose the fallacy of the amnesty argument. 

Most DREAMers were brought to the U.S. without consent, or even knowledge. They are not personally at fault.

Granting them residency is a benevolent act indeed, but it is not amnesty.

The second argument against granting residency to DREAMers alleges that to do so would reward criminals and law breakers. 

Fair enough. Most Americans oppose rewarding criminals. So let’s explore crimes.

All crimes have two necessary elements; without both, no crime is committed. The first is the actus reus (Latin for “guilty act”). The second is the mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”).

There are many reasons why a person may not possess the necessary mens rea to perpetrate a crime. One relevant to children and illegal immigration is, well, being a child.

Whether it is a lack of evil intent, lack of any intent, or complete ignorance as to the underlying facts, children of a tender age are simply incapable of forming the requisite mental state for the commission of a crime under American law.

Our hypothetical eight-month-old certainly fits the bill. For DREAMers, however, the issue is not hypothetical. The threat of deportation is very real.

They have done no wrong, and should not be counted among the criminals and the law breakers.

The third colorable argument against the DREAM Act is that dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals will come to the United States for every DREAMer who is granted citizenship. 

This will purportedly occur through “chain migration” - the sponsoring of siblings, parents, and other relatives to immigrate under current law.

That it only takes seven words to rebut this argument demonstrates its weakness, if not its disingenuousness: craft the bill to disallow chain migration. 

There are other arguments, but the debate boils down to this: DREAMers are blameless, and Americans are just.

Banishing these individuals to a foreign land is patently unjust.

When strict adherence to the letter of the law works an injustice, Americans will not enforce it: judges will avoid it, lawmakers will amend it, and juries will nullify it.

The DREAM Act will pass. The question is when, and how.

Passing a version of the DREAM Act anytime soon will likely require Republican support. Such support will only come from Republican politicians whose constituents are passionate about its passage, e.g. politicians from California and Texas.

Political parties are shaped by public opinion, not vice versa. Given current U.S. demographic trends, and the conservative/libertarian leanings of many Hispanics, it is safe to assume that change is coming to Southwestern Republican state-parties.

Democracies are similar to free-markets. A political party sensitive to market conditions, and capable of meeting demand, will succeed. Parties that poorly assess market conditions will fail.

For example, a California political party that cannot muster the compassion (or the political-foresight) to support a version of the DREAM Act that excepts individuals raised in America since infancy from summary deportation is a political party on the fast track to irrelevance – which is evidenced by 30% voter registration, and shrinking.

Republican support for the DREAM Act is possible. The impetus, however, will not be changing the minds of current Republican office-holders; it will be changing those who hold office.

In Southwestern states, market conditions foreshadow a new political paradigm. 

There is a growing demand for Republican candidates who honestly address the broken immigration system and oppose the exile of children for the sins of their parents.

For many, the hope is that these candidates arrive sooner rather than later.

DREAMers hold on.


Joseph Anthony Carlos is a Deputy District Attorney in Sutter County, California. Contact him at joseph.carlos.76@gmail.com.


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