Only in the bitter partisanship of our moment could Texas Governor Rick Perry be denounced because he expressed compassion. In the most recent Republican presidential debate, Perry was hammered for supporting a Texas law that allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition discounts at public universities. Now he has apologized for saying those who oppose helping illegals attend college “have no heart.”
Perry was right the first time! Anyone with a heart should support the idea of allowing illegals to qualify for in-state tuition aid – generically, Dream Acts.
California Governor Jerry Brown just signed his state’s Dream Act, putting the far-right Perry and the far-left Brown on the same side of a major issue. Now, the nation’s two largest states will allow illegal immigrants to attend public universities at subsidized tuition rates.
Other states should too – and it may become a major issue in the 2012 White House race. But there is potential for a political compromise because Dream Acts should be qualified in two important ways:
Allow illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges, in return for making English the national language
End minority preferences for illegal immigrants
This grand compromise would extend compassion to illegals, while helping them become productive taxpayers, which is in everyone’s interest. It would head off a looming demand for bilingualism, something that could significantly harm the United States in a decade or two, and make social divisions worse. Exhibit A is Belgium. Demands for bilingualism are more easily headed off now than they will be in a generation.
The grand compromise would prevent the government-gone-wild situation of people who broke U.S. law receiving both subsidized tuition and college admission preferences, while law-abiding native citizens receive no preference. (The notion of granting illegals tuition subsidies, and also granting them special admission preferences, is the sort of thing that sparks Tea Party anger against government.)
Here’s the Dream Acts situation:
* The California legislature just passed a bill allowing illegals (please, no more of the silly euphemism “undocumented arrivals,” as if all that’s happened is a paperwork error) to receive tuition benefits if they have high school or GED degrees, and have paid California taxes. Governor Brown signed the bill Saturday evening.
* Maryland just enacted a Dream Act with provisions similar to California’s. A ballot referendum slated for November 2012 would overturn the law. Maryland is one of the country’s bluest states, reliably Democratic in national contests. Yet polls show Maryland voter support for the Dream Act lukewarm. There is more than a passing chance that bluer-than-blue Maryland will vote down something accepted in blazing-red Texas.
* Congress has voted down, tabled or placed in limbo national Dream Acts many times. President Obama strongly supports the idea, and has said he will talk it up during the 2012 campaign. A 2009 national Dream Act was ridiculed by conservatives, and rightly so, because it contained a clause saying illegals could not be prosecuted for lying to federal agents about their immigration status. That went too far even for many liberals. The current Dream Act before Congress has been tightened and stripped of P.C. nonsense.
There are strong arguments for Dream Acts, where Texas has been a leader, first granting in-state tuition to illegals in 2001.
The strongest argument is that illegals are here – deporting them all would be wrong, even if it were practical – and need educations to better themselves. Rick Perry argues that it costs society less to help illegals graduate from college, then get decent jobs and pay taxes, than to put illegals on welfare and similar programs for long periods. Surely Perry is correct in this.
The Supreme Court has held that illegal immigrant children are entitled to public educations through grade 12; extending this thinking to in-state tuition is logical. In 2009, the Dallas Morning News found that only about 1 percent of students attending Texas public universities are illegals with in-state benefits. That’s a reasonable price for progress.
Americans should be generous, and help illegals attain college educations. We shouldn’t be fools, though, and go out of our way to reward illegals for entering the country unlawfully.
So how about a Reality Dream Act?: qualify illegals for in-state tuition, while denying them minority set-aside privileges and certifying English as the national language. I live in Maryland, and I’d vote for that.