Dreams are a funny thing. Some people have many; some have none. Some are memorable and others are quickly forgotten. Some are vivid and clear or serve as a path toward greater purpose. Some are frightening. Some just don't make sense. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's DREAM falls into the latter category.
Silver introduced the DREAM Act (Assembly Bill Number 2597) to the New York State Legislature on January 16, 2013. The stated purpose of the law is to create a New York DREAM Fund Commission committed to advancing the educational opportunities of the children of immigrants. The commission will have twelve members; Silver will directly appoint three. The commission is charged with raising money to distribute to illegal immigrant children pursuing higher education and training high school counselors and administrators on how to promote this program. If the student graduated high school or received a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), they do not need to have legal immigration status.
Likewise, existing financial assistance laws are to be revised to make all aid programs available to students here illegally.
The Speaker of the New York State Assembly apparently shares this dream with several leading Democrats. United States Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) proposed the national DREAM Act of 2010. (In what could be the first case of sleep-plagiarism, in both bills DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). Durbin's premise is that children brought illegally to the United States by their parents should not be punished for their parents' crimes.
I take umbrage with anyone who feels a young boy should know the legal process of the country he is entering and insist his parents follow proper administrative processes. However, it is reasonable to expect him to pursue proper legal status by the time he approaches the age of majority. That is what Durbin's DREAM Act of 2010 sought to accomplish - it created and encouraged a pathway to citizenship.
The DREAM Act of 2010 gave immigrants brought here illegally as children a pathway to the rights, privileges and responsibilities of United States citizenship. According to Durbin, DREAMers must have exhibited good moral character; avoided persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group; never been convicted of certain offenses; earned a high school diploma or GED or served honorably in the military for two years; and not be deportable for any other reason. Importantly, DREAMers could be deported if they become a charge of the state or show poor moral character during the ten years after applying for citizenship.
In stark contrast, Silver's DREAM is a dark one. The Speaker does not require his recipients of taxpayer tuition assistance have good moral character. Commit a crime? Not a problem. Persecute a person because of their race or sexual orientation? Don't ask; don't tell. Serving in the military is discouraged, because who needs tuition assistance with the GI bill? Responsibilities to program funders - taxpayers? None. Applicants must simply file an affidavit with the school where they intend to apply to seek legal status. Applicants are not required to follow through and achieve legal immigration status, and the school need not verify the affidavit is accurate or check the progress of any application for legal status. Silver's program makes Durbin's DREAM look like GITMO
Given these remarkable differences, one must wonder what was Silver's rationale. Perhaps it was a simple checklist of criteria that he uses to evaluate any legislation: "Creates more government? Check. Gives me power to appoint political cronies? Check. Redistributes the fruits of others' labor? Check. Caters to a special interest campaign contributor? Check."
The last check may be the most important of all. Is Silver is concerned about the well being of New York residents living outside the law? Not likely. This legislation has less to do with educating illegal immigrants than it has to do with providing more public sector jobs for important members of his electoral base: teachers and school administrators.
Silver's proposal will create a system to encourage immigrants without legal status to finish high school and go to college. This means more jobs and taxpayer-funded resources at the high school level. The colleges students may choose to attend to will likely be the more affordable SUNY schools. This means more taxpayer-funded jobs for educators. In short, Silver has found a way to drive people to our public schools in order to increase the size of government. If it were anything more than that, Silver would put conditions on the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. He would require schools to assure the integrity of the system. Most important, he would require participating students to seek the protections, rights and responsibilities of United States citizenship.
But Silver's bill is not about that at all. It is the antithesis of Durbin's national DREAM Act.
Education is under the microscope, and has been for quite some time. Teachers' and administrators' work schedules are criticized as being less than a full day, and certainly less than a full year. The tenure system is debased for tolerating indifference and discouraging innovation. Union contracts are attacked for providing excessive benefits not available in the private sector. Some of these criticisms may be warranted, but I believe most are not. Keep in mind politicians created the framework for these attacks. They are directly and indirectly responsible for the school calendar. They created and maintain the tenure system; they are responsible for the negotiated contracts of teachers. Teachers did none of this on their own.
But bigger government is not the pathway to reforming New York State education and rehabilitating the reputation of our educators. Strengthening ownership is: encourage graduation rates by improving attendance. Force parents to get more involved and hold them accountable for their children. Tie Temporary Assistance to Needy Families cash to school attendance. Promote charter and specialty technical schools that educate our youth for jobs in emerging technologies. Reward teachers for surpassing student achievement goals. Partner with the private sector to provide more opportunities for single mothers and other students to provide for their own families while finishing school.
We have a moral obligation to give illegal immigrant students the opportunity to pursue their own DREAM. Unfortunately, that is not what this bill will achieve. Instead, Silver is focused on filling classrooms to create government jobs for his union supporters, creating a new patronage pit gussied up to look like Durbin's righteous plan.
Comments? Please email me at Peter.R.Livingston@gmail.com.