Don’t Believe the Myths About Dreamers

COMMENTARY Immigration

Don’t Believe the Myths About Dreamers

Jan 16, 2018 2 min read
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Election Law Reform Initiative Manager, Senior Legal Fellow

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration.
'Dreamers' react as they meet with relatives during the 'Keep Our Dream Alive' binational meeting at a new section of the border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park. JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS/Newscom

The media have done an outstanding job of creating a winsome stereotype of the nearly 700,000 beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

To hear the media tell it, virtually all of these young people are in college — or already graduated from college. Those no longer pursuing their studies are serving nobly in the military, launching promising civilian careers, or otherwise earnestly chasing the American Dream.

Any recollections they may have of their home countries, we are told, are vague at best. Indeed, they’ve become so fully “Americanized,” they would be lost if they were returned to the now- foreign tongue and culture of their native lands.

This characterization of Dreamers may be accurate for many. But it is far wide of the mark for many DACA beneficiaries. It’s main goal is to generate sympathy and prod lawmakers to grant them legal amnesty.

But history shows that every grant of amnesty triggers even more illegal immigration. Before lawmakers make any final decision on the issue, they would do well to take a closer look at those who benefited from DACA.

For example, not all entered the country in diapers. The DACA program extended to all who entered the country before they turned age 16. Those who entered the country as teens or “tweens” are certainly fluent in both the language and cultural norms of their home countries.

Indeed, the original DACA application form had a space for the name of the interpreter who helped the applicant complete the English language form. One study estimates that, today, just under a quarter of DACA beneficiaries are functionally illiterate in English and another 46 percent have only “basic” English ability.

What about education? The majority of DACA beneficiaries are now adults, but only 49 percent have a high school education.

Well, maybe they’re in the armed forces. After all, military service was a qualifying condition for DACA eligibility. Yet, the Pentagon reports that, among the current 690,000 DACA beneficiaries, only 900 are serving in the military. That’s less than half the number of DACA beneficiaries who have had their eligibility revoked because of criminal convictions and gang affiliations.

The popular, media-crafted image of “the typical Dreamer” is far from accurate. But the biggest problem with amnesty isn’t the question of “Who gets it?” It’s “Who gets it next?”

Amnesty for people who enter the country illegally begets more people entering the country illegally. It has been proved by our own experience.

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act gave citizenship to 2.7 million illegal aliens. The bill’s sponsors claimed it would solve the illegal immigration problem once and for all. Yet, within 10 years, nearly 6 million more people had entered the country illegally.

Amnesty is like a magnet for unlawful immigration. It encourages those wishing to come to America to bypass the highly bureaucratic (but legal) immigration system and try their luck with a quicker option: breaking the law. After all, if lawmakers grant amnesty once (or twice, or three times), odds are they’ll do it again. Suddenly, illegal entry never looked so good!

DACA or Dreamer amnesty would also almost certainly spark a surge in legal immigration as well. Under current sponsorship rules, known as chain migration, the average new citizen sponsors 3.45 additional immigrants. Therefore, providing citizenship to DACA beneficiaries will lead to millions more receiving citizenship, including the parents of DACA beneficiaries — the adults who were responsible for their families’ violation of U.S. immigration laws in the first place. A DACA amnesty would thus doubly undermine the rule of law.

When it comes to immigration reform, amnesty should be Job Last. Congress should focus first on tightening border security, strengthening interior enforcement and improving the legal immigration process. Only when the trends in illegal immigration change for the better should lawmakers discuss how to accommodate those who have no legal justification for being here.

This piece originally appeared in Akron Beacon Journal/