Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Education Sector: Supplementary Materials: Reward Hard-Working Immigrant Students

I saw this Education Sector breifing page on illegal immigrant students last week. The proposal would essentially grant citizenship to illegal immigrant kids who graduate high school and have met certain other requirements.
Undocumented students who graduate from high school with a standard diploma deserve an expedited path to legal status. It would not be a hand-out or an amnesty but rather an earned opportunity, and it would be a chance for the students to repay the nation's investment in their public education. The promise of legal status would give them a strong incentive to learn English, finish high school, and embrace American life and culture. Giving these U.S.-raised high school graduates a pathway to citizenship is in the public's best interest financially, socially, and culturally.

As citizens, they will pay more taxes and need fewer social services. Legislation aimed at this problem stalled in the last session of Congress. Known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM), it would have allowed undocumented students to qualify for instate tuition rates at state colleges and universities. Students who entered the country before they were 16 and who graduate from high school would have qualified for a six-year provisional residency term, during which they could attend college or enter the military. Following that period, these students would be eligible to become permanent U.S. residents.

Fast-track citizenship (as opposed to residency) for undocumented high school graduates would address the same problem, but more simply and efficiently. According to Urban Institute estimates, about 65,000 would qualify each year, substantially fewer than those on the normal track to citizenship, thus eliminating wait lists, delays, and confusion due to processing overload. In addition to graduating from an accredited U.S. public or private high school, they would have to:
  • Be under the age of 21;
  • Have resided in the U.S. for four or more years prior to turning 18;
  • Demonstrate good moral character;
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the English language and U.S. government and civics, and;
  • Swear an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.
In other words, they would have to meet even tougher requirements for citizenship than other immigrants. The program would work very much as the military's fast-track program for undocumented students does now. Upon graduation or during their senior year, undocumented students could apply for citizenship, in the same way that they can enter the U.S. military. If they meet all of the criteria, they would be put on a six- to 12‑month expedited path for citizenship. While their applications are pending they would be free to pursue national or military service or employment. They would also be able to attend college shortly after graduation.
As far as this goes, I am fine with the proposal, however, I would add a few important caveats.

First, in addition to simply graduating, which unfortunatly can be done largely by showing up, they would have to demonstrat their proficiency in English and government/civics by having scored a level of proficient on an English test administered on a national basis at the same time, kind of like a SAT for citizenship. There would have to be a fee charged for this privilege, not a substantial one, but one that would make sure that the student really wants citizenship.

Second, if a young person earns citizenship in this way, they would be barred from sponsoring anyone else for citizenship or legal residency, including immediate family for a period of 15 years. Here is my logic. Under current U.S. rules, a U.S. Citizen may sponsor their "immediate" family for legal residency in the U.S. The definition of immediate family is pretty broad. What I want to avoid is a large extended family of say parents, immediate siblings, grandparents (on both sides), uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins twice removed, from identifying one student to go to school, meet the requirements, be granted citizenship and then sponsor the whole kit and kaboodle into legal status. If after they have established themselves as law abiding, tax paying, contributing citizens of the United States, they want to sponsor their family, they can do so. But it cannot be immediate and of course, I would insist that the family return to their native land and apply through the normal, lengthy process.

Third, no arrests for anything other than minor traffic violations. I am not talking about convictions, but arrests. Demonstration of good moral character has to be based upon abiding by the laws of our nation, not having a priest or neighbor writing a letter. People of good moral character don't have run-ins with the law enforcement process.

Fourth, Education Sector described this plan similar to the fast track for foriegn nationals who serve in the U.S. military. As far as I know, these foriegn nationals must be legal immigrants to serve in the military, but that is beside the point. In addtion to the above noted requirements, I would like to see these potential citizens demonstrate their fealty to the United States by serving the United States, either in the military, the federal bureaucracy or the state or local governments, for a period of no less than two years, either before, during or after college. They can have a choice in the manner in which they serve. They may be granted citizenship, but they would hold the citizenship in a probationary status until the completion of their service. If they fail to complete their service within five years (unless granted a college waiver), their citizenship would be revoked.

While I like Ed Sector's carrot approach to the granting of citizenship to high school graduates, simply granting citizenship just because they graduate is a little too easy. The road to citizenship for illegal immigrants must be difficult and while it is unfair to hold children of illegal immigrants accountable for the illegal acts of their parents, parents cannot be rewarded simply because they have a smart kid.

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