THE ISSUE: Democrats and Republicans are offering very different versions of the DREAM Act, involving the legal status of young people raised in this country, but whose parents came to the country illegally. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is proposing "DREAM ACT 2.0" which would offer them temporary non-immigrant visas.
Should Congress adopt the Rubio version of the DREAM Act?
Pia Lopez: No
The United States has two categories of visas.
Immigrant visas (green cards) are for people who want to be permanent residents, the first step on a path to citizenship.
Non-immigrant visas visitor visas are for people who intend to stay for a specific, limited period. These people have a home and binding ties outside the United States.
Rubio's proposal would hopelessly muddle this system.
He would treat kids who have been raised and schooled in the United States, who have little or no connection to their parents' home country, as visitors except they would be able to study, work, join the military and get a driver's license. "It doesn't allow you to become a resident or citizen," he notes.
However, Rubio adds, "It doesn't prohibit you from applying."
Really? If he believes that, he doesn't really understand how our broken immigration system works. With a non-immigrant visa, you can apply to adjust your status if you have parents who are U.S. citizens (or have green cards) or if you're a refugee. Those avenues are out for these kids.
Or you can apply for an employment-based immigrant visa. However, these visas are limited to an outrageously low 140,000 a year, and only 9,800 for any single country. A whole lot more people want an employment-based green card than are available. The backlogs are years long.
In short, Rubio's proposal is no solution at all. It does nothing to reverse the marginality and long-term prospects of homegrown kids whose roots are in this country.
Earlier versions of the DREAM Act would treat these kids as potential citizens the best course. If they arrived in the United States before age 16, had been in the country for five years, graduated from a U.S. high school and had no criminal record, they would get conditional legal status. They could get a green card within six years if they went to college or joined the U.S. military.
That version doesn't punish kids for the sins of their parents.
It rewards achievement high school graduation, college or military service. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he plans a floor vote before the November election.
This renewed debate comes as U.S. immigration and birthrates are in decline and our population is aging.
Now is a good time to reform the immigration system to reflect our needs. A DREAM Act that offers a pathway to success not continued purgatory would be a small start.
Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.
Ben Boychuk: Yes
As always, specifics matter. We're arguing about an outline, and quibbling with what at this point amounts to bullet points in a speech.
In short, we're arguing over broad principles, not particulars.
We won't know what the actual legislation looks like for months. In principle, however, Rubio's proposal is worth hashing out.
But I will predict with metaphysical certainty that Rubio's DREAM Act alternative does not represent "continued purgatory" for the children of illegal immigrants, as Pia would have it. Nor would it establish "American Apartheid," as Democratic consultant Jason Stanford proclaimed at the Huffington Post the other day, or create "a nightmare for immigrants," as attorney Raul A. Reyes argued in the pages of the Los Angeles Times.
Apocalyptic rhetoric aside, Rubio's proposal is simply a compromise, a stopgap one of those virtuous but messy and elusive constructs that commentators often laud in theory but often deplore in practice.
As a political matter, Republicans and conservatives will not support the Democrats' long-held idea of creating a virtually unobstructed path to citizenship for illegal immigrants or their children. That would reward lawlessness and further undermine our rickety naturalization process. Not a chance.
But Republicans and conservatives might support a policy that addresses one facet of the illegal immigration problem what to do about the kids? without obviously undermining the principles of fairness, sovereignty and the rule of law.
When Rubio says younger illegal immigrants wouldn't be barred from applying eventually for some sort of permanent status, Pia correctly notes that's impossible under current law.
Rather than exposing Rubio's ignorance of our crazy-quilt immigration process, it suggests he is really looking to create a unique class of visa to meet a unique need.
Call it second-class citizenship, if you like. In reality, it isn't citizenship at all. But it is documentation something these children of illegal immigrants very much want and need.
Rubio acknowledges that his idea doesn't address the larger deficiencies of existing policy. "One thing at a time here," he told the Miami Herald this month. "After we take care of the kids issue, I think the next step is going to have to be an improvement in our enforcement mechanism. And at the same time, modernization of our legal immigration system, (a) guest worker program, etc."
That's a worthy fight for another day. But in a political climate of all-or-nothing intransigence over immigration reform (and much else), maybe we should take our small victories when and wherever we find them.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. (www.city-journal.org/california)