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DREAM Act: Spin and counter-spin as another vote nears

DREAM Act supporters outside L.A. City Hall, June 2009
DREAM Act supporters outside L.A. City Hall, June 2009
Photo by DreamActivist/Flickr (Creative Commons)

As a vote on the DREAM Act nears, what is political spin and what isn't? Now that a white paper listing GOP talking points in opposition to the proposed legislation is making the rounds, the Immigration Policy Center has issued a document countering some of the claims being made.

The white paper is being circulated to legislators and conservative groups by the office of Alabama's Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions. It presents an opponent's take on the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, which would allow a path to legal status for undocumented college students and military hopefuls. A vote is planned for after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The largely Republican opposition to the measure has criticized it as an amnesty, among other things. A sample talking point from the white paper:

4. Estimates Suggest That At Least 2.1 Million Illegal Aliens Will Be Eligible For The DREAM Act Amnesty. In Reality, We Have No Idea How Many Illegal Aliens Will Apply

Section 4(d) of the DREAM Act waives all numerical limitations on green cards, and prohibits any numerical limitation on the number of aliens eligible for amnesty under its provisions. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that the DREAM Act will make approximately 2.1 milion illegal aliens eligible for amnesty. It is highly likely that the nubmer of illegal aliens receiving amnesty under the DREAM Act will be much higher than the estimated 2.1 million due to fraud and our inherent inability to accurately estimate the illegal alien population. Clearly, the message sent by the DREAM Act will be that if any young person can enter the country illegally, within 5 years, they will be placed on a path to citizenship.

The counter from the non-partisan IPC's paper:
Myth: The DREAM Act will result in a mass amnesty.

Fact: The DREAM Act is not an amnesty. No one will automatically receive a green card. To legalize, individuals have to meet stringent eligibility criteria: they must have entered the United States before age 16; must have been here for five years or more; must not have committed any major crimes; must graduate from high school or the equivalent; and must complete at least two years of college or military service. Eligible students must first obtain conditional residency and complete the requirements before they can obtain a green card—a process that will take years. Not all immigrants who came as young children will be eligible to legalize because they will not meet some of these requirements.

For the record, the Migration Policy Institute has stated that while as many as 2.1 million young people could be eligible, only about 38 percent - an estimated 825,000 - would in the end qualify for permanent resident status under the DREAM Act's requirements.

Other talking points in the white paper make claims about criminals "including alien gang members and aliens with misdemeanor convictions" qualifying for legal status under the DREAM Act and that there is already a "legal process in place for illegal aliens to obtain U.S. citizenship through military service."

As someone who began reporting on the DREAM Act back in 2007, I can attest to some artful spin in the white paper. For example, legal residents may obtain expedited citizenship though military service, but they must be in the country legally to join. A passage from the U.S. Code that is cited in the talking points as proof that "the Secretary of defense can authorize the enlistment of illegal aliens" is cited out of context. From the code (bold highlight added):

(b) Citizenship or Residency. - (1) A person may be enlisted in any armed force only if the person is one of the following:
(A) A national of the United States, as defined in section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(22)).
(B) An alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined in section 101(a)(20) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(20)).
(C) A person described in section 341 of one of the following compacts:
(i) The Compact of Free Association between the Federated States of Micronesia and the United States (section 201(a) of Public Law 108-188 (117 Stat. 2784; 48 U.S.C. 1921 note)).
(ii) The Compact of Free Association between the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the United States (section 201(b) of Public Law 108-188 (117 Stat. 2823; 48 U.S.C. 1921 note)).
(iii) The Compact of Free Association between Palau and the United States (section 201 of Public Law 99-658 (100 Stat. 3678; 48 U.S.C. 1931 note)).
(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), the Secretary concerned may authorize the enlistment of a person not described in paragraph (1) if the Secretary determines that such enlistment is vital to the national interest.

There are some truthful tidbits not frequently covered: for example, that the cutoff age proposed for DREAM Act applicants would be 35 (though applicants must still have entered the U.S. before they were 16 and have been here for five years immediately preceding the date of the law's enactment). It's something that those intimate with the legislation know already, if perhaps some legislators don't.

The Sessions white paper has been making the rounds online. Already, two readers have posted language from the talking points into the Multi-American comments section beneath posts that relate to the DREAM Act. It's interesting, the way these work.