I first heard of the Dream Act a year or two ago, when our local throwaway weekly rag of an alternative newspaper — that word should probably be in quotes, but that's beside the point — ran a story about students at one of the local universities who were engaged in a hunger strike or some such protest because Congress had done nothing. (Quelle surprise.) I was largely unimpressed with the stories of the particular students, but it did seem to me that there was a certain injustice about deporting people who were brought to this country (illegally) as children and who had grown up here. This bill, a darling of the weepy left and yet another anathema to the growling right, had been oozing its way around Capitol Hill for some time, without getting much traction; hence the protests.
There are certain fundamentals about the situation the bill addresses that I think need being addressed. What makes us Americans? It's not just being born here. The constitution provides that anyone who is born here is a citizen, but the universe of citizens is not quite coterminous with the universe of Americans. People who have been here from an early age, who have gone to our public schools and played on our playgrounds and sat in our movie theaters and walked on our sidewalks all their conscious lives are as American as me or anyone else; even if those schools were substandard, even if those playgrounds were dusty underfunded sorry imitations, even if those movies weren't in English, even if those sidewalks were dusty roadside tracks where sidewalks should have been. It is the long process of growing up in America that makes someone an American, and I think it is only right that those who have done that ought to be able to live here. Maybe not as citizens, but in some capacity.
President Obama has cut through the bull, and announced a change in policy by executive order: people who meet certain criteria will not be subject to deporation. They have to have been here before their 16th birthday; they have to have lived here continuously for at least 5 years; they have to be in school, or graduates of our high schools (or US military veterans with honourable discharges); they must not have a criminal record, and they can't be more than 29 years old.
Now, I will disagree with some of the details. For one thing, I'm not convinced that a person can really fully develop the American identity if they only start at the age of 15. I would have set the bar no later than 12 years of age. And I'm concerned that the requirement that they not have a criminal record could be too inflexibly interpreted. No one should be denied this kind of status just because they were, say, arrested for disturbing the peace at an Occupy protest, or getting in a fight or something. Our society lacks the political discernment it once had, and we now use our criminal courts to deal with everything from fights after school on up. When we no longer brand young men as child-sex offenders because they have indecent pictures of thier girlfriends on their smartphone, I'll be more comfortable with the criminal-record criteria in this executive order. (I would also want to be certain that, just because they get to stay, it doesn't mean their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins get to stay, too.)
But I applaud Obama for having done something to rectify a fairly clear injustice. I agree with Mr Romney's lackluster, mealymouthed response ("this isn't the way to go about it"), but he knows damn well that the spineless hydra that Congress has become will never act without being forced. If nothing else, Obama's bold and righteous act will have forced them to do their job in response.