Educating Illegal Immigrants

IllegalAliensA rather bizarre column by Jeff Jacoby is drawing some blogospheric attention.

YOU’RE A sensible, principled conservative. You want America to be a land of boundless opportunity and freedom, where people are treated as individuals and judged on their merits. You reject the divisive identity politics of the left – what matters most about any of us, you would insist, is not race or class or ethnic origins: it is personal character and achievement. There are few things about contemporary politics you deplore more than the demonizing or scapegoating of entire groups (“white males,’’ “the rich,’’ “the Christian right,’’ “gun owners’’), as though every member of the group is interchangeable and indistinguishable, wholly defined by a single disparaging label.

True.

But let someone mention “illegal immigrants,’’ and your principles fly out the window.

No, not me.

So when Governor Deval Patrick recommends allowing young illegal immigrants – residents of Massachusetts who have graduated from high school – to attend a public college and pay in-state tuition, you flip out. This is outrageous, you protest. It rewards people who broke the rules. It’s unfair to the taxpayers who subsidize public higher education. Why should an illegal immigrant get a valuable tuition break that Massachusetts wouldn’t give to a kid from Maine or New Hampshire?

You vigorously agree with Charlie Baker, a Republican candidate for governor. “If you’re illegally here, you’re illegally here,’’ Baker said last week. “The notion that we should treat illegal immigrants with the same benefits and opportunities that legal immigrants and legal citizens have doesn’t make any sense to me.’’

It is dispiriting to see Baker, a man of considerable intellectual heft, stoop to such shallow sloganeering. It is even more dispiriting to see conservatives assail immigrants instead of the insane immigration system that gave most of them no legal way to enter the United States.  On the whole, illegal immigrants are just the sort of newcomers Americans should embrace: self-motivated risk-takers, strivers determined to improve themselves, hard-working men and women willing to take the meanest jobs if it will give them a shot at building their own American dream. Why would we want to punish them? Why would we want to punish their kids?

But these aren’t mutually exclusive.  I simultaneously agree with Jacoby that our immigration system is broken, that accepting and assimilating more of them is on the whole a good thing, and that it makes sense to educate assimilated immigrants and yet believe that we ought to enforce our laws.  The fact that we can’t or won’t enforce our immigration policy is a good reason to change it — not a reason to pretend the laws don’t exist.

Jacoby cherry picks a particularly hard case:

A couple from Brazil, seeking a better life for themselves and their 2-month-old daughter, enter the United States unlawfully. They settle in Massachusetts, where 18 years later the girl graduates from a public high school, as assimilated and acculturated an American as her classmates in every respect – except that they are US citizens, and she, by virtue of a decision made when she was a baby, is not. Her classmates can attend the University of Massachusetts, paying $9,704 a year in tuition, the price tag for Massachusetts residents. She can attend only if she pays the out-of-state rate of $22,157; if that’s more than she can afford, she’s out of luck.

This has to be unrepresentative.  What percentage of illegal immigrant children of college age have been residents of the state for eighteen years?

On the other hand, Jacoby has a point about irrationality among conservatives on the issue.

An unsigned piece at Stop the ACLU retorts, “what Jeff is missing is that the people looking for a better life entered the country illegally. Why should we excuse that behavior? We shouldn’t embrace that behavior just so they can build the American dream.” Jacoby doesn’t “miss” that; he argues that the system essentially doesn’t allow these people a legal means of immigration and that millions of them are already here.

Still, the reaction is understandable: These people are here illegally. Granted, in most cases, it was their parents who broke our laws, merely bringing their kids along for the ride. And some percentage of the kids are for all intents and purposes Americans, having grown up here and having no memories of “home.”

But it does seem perverse to reward their parents for flouting the law. Those who are trying to get in legally are waiting years and foregoing this opportunity for their children, after all.  Openly declaring a policy that “once here, you’re here” both makes those who play by the rules suckers and ensures fewer will play by the rules.

Clifton B of Another Black Conservative argues that we can’t afford it. “What Jeff Jacoby (like so many in Washington) has forgotten is that America is $12 trillion dollars in the hole. Half of every dollar we spend is borrowed money. Money that must be paid back by a generation that is too young to vote their objections or accept the responsibility. Sure it would be nice not to punish the children of illegal immigrants for the parents’ lawbreaking. However the stark reality is that for us to be generous the way Jacoby suggests, requires us to be cruel to our very own children by robbing their futures to pay for our current mistakes.”  A similar argument is made at 24Ahead.

That just doesn’t make sense. Either the in-state rate is a worthwhile investment in the future of Massachusetts residents or it isn’t. Adding in a relative handful of students isn’t going to break the bank.

The latter goes on to make a more compelling argument:

[C]ollege resources and discounts are a finite resource: just like in a game of musical chairs, there are only so many to go around. Any illegal alien who gets a “chair” (education slot or discount) means that a U.S. citizen will have to “stand” (not be able to go to college or not be able to afford it). If any of “400-600 additional students” that Mass can admit are illegal aliens, that means that U.S. citizens could have gotten those slots/discounts but lost out. Mass voters are in effect valuing foreign citizens higher than their fellow U.S. citizens, turning their back on U.S. citizens in order to help foreign citizens.

The problem with that, though, is that there’s no such thing as “citizenship” at the state level — only residency.  It’s arguable than an 18-year Massachusetts resident with illegal immigrant parents are more entitled to in-state resident tuition rates than her cohorts who are American citizens whose parents moved to Massachusetts two years ago and have hardly paid anything into the state treasury.

But, surely, it makes no sense to declare a policy that those who are here in violation of our laws should be able to bring that fact to the attention of the government and thereby be rewarded.

Correction:  I originally misread Jacoby’s example as saying the parents in question had subsequently attained US citizenship.  I’ve rewritten two paragraphs that referenced that erroneous fact, as they confuse the issue needlessly.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    I think a conservative would recoil at the idea that not providing an entitlement is a form of punishment.

  2. Ben says:

    James, maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see anywhere in that hypothetical that says that the parents are citizens. I was assuming as I read it that they are not. The “they are US citizens” I believe was referring to her classmates, not her parents.

    You’re right. I misread it. Fixing now. – jhj

  3. Doc: I think you’ve misread something that Jacoby wrote here: […] They settle in Massachusetts, where 18 years later the girl graduates from a public high school, as assimilated and acculturated an American as her classmates in every respect — except that they are US citizens […] When you write: […]Beyond that, her parents are U.S. citizens and residents of Massachusetts.[…] I think the US Citizens Jacoby was referring to are her classmates, so I think half of your analysis is a little misplaced.

    Now, a few points:

    First, that they have been able to reside in the US illegally for 18 years is astounding. Second, there exists a way for illegals to become Permanent Residents after a ten-year residence and being an upstanding member of the community. It costs a lot of money, it requires surrender to the authorities, and it’s a gamble that they may not get it. But the point is, THEY CAN. Meaning, once they reached the 10-year mark when they CAN, it was their reponsibility to try, as their daughter will also become legal here and become a citizen subsequent to their naturalization.

    Out of ignorance or fear, they didn’t. I won’t get into the Conservative monetary ins-and-outs as most are wont to argue. This is me saying, they had a chance to get to it, they should have taken it. They still can, but between now and then, their daughter is not legally here and shouldn’t even be allowed to go to State University.

  4. Anon says:

    I have no idea what to do about illegal immigration. However, I do disagree with those that conflate the morality of it with the legality of it. Yes, the illegal immigrants are here illegally. Yes, a nation has every right to enforce its laws. Yes, it does seem unfair that an illegal immigrant can “jump ahead” of someone attempting legal immigration.

    That said, however, I don’t think there is anything immoral about illegal immigration per se. Most illegal immigrants come here to work their butts off in poor conditions to make a better life for them and their family. Yes, they knowingly broke a law, and that’s bad, but is it immoral? And how many of us would not do the same thing if in the same position?

  5. Ugh says:

    I’m not sure why people think being a member of the lucky-sperm club entitles them to look down on people who actually had to make an effort to get here.

  6. Anon: I know you’re just an anonymous commenter but I’ve heard your BS before. I’m going to have fun picking your comment apart.

    I have no idea what to do about illegal immigration. However, I do disagree with those that conflate the morality of it with the legality of it.

    You forget that the laws of a nation reflects their mores and immoral, but legal laws are challenged and overturned as a result. Few people saying “if you’re here, you’re here” are taken seriously.

    Yes, the illegal immigrants are here illegally. Yes, a nation has every right to enforce its laws. Yes, it does seem unfair that an illegal immigrant can “jump ahead” of someone attempting legal immigration.

    SEEM UNFAIR? I waited in my home country for SIX YEARS before I could get my hardworking a** on a plane to this country, away from all members of my family because of the way the laws were. Did I try to get on a plane to Mexico or Canada and jump the border because it’s “unfair?”

    That said, however, I don’t think there is anything immoral about illegal immigration per se. Most illegal immigrants come here to work their butts off in poor conditions to make a better life for them and their family.

    My heart bleeds for the jobs the illegal immigrants take from those Americans who’d do it. My heart bleeds for those who drive the cost of labor down so much so that it discourages American workers from doing those tasks. Illegals solicit the poor labor conditions they experience by vice of their own actions.

    Yes, they knowingly broke a law, and that’s bad, but is it immoral? And how many of us would not do the same thing if in the same position?

    Logical fallacies abound. I don’t even need to respond to this.

  7. Anon says:

    I have no idea what to do about illegal immigration. However, I do disagree with those that conflate the morality of it with the legality of it.

    You forget that the laws of a nation reflects their mores and immoral, but legal laws are challenged and overturned as a result.

    So basically you are admitting that it is possible for something to be illegal but not immoral, right? The only distinction you want to make is that eventually the law will exactly reflect the morals of the country?

  8. mike says:

    We have watched as illegal immigrants have come into this country by the thousands for years. We know where they work. We know where they live. We allowed this as a government and society because of the contributions of them; cheap labor and the like. Now we want to treat them as second class citizens. This reminds me of Germany where they allowed the Turkish workers to come into the country to rebuild it and then wanted to treat them as second class citizens causing a lot of friction. Their here – many did the wrong thing by coming illegally but the answer after so many years of de facto immunity is not to ensure they don’t receive a quality education and other basics.

  9. @Anon: Your summary is accurate but I have not made I don’t think that today’s morals apply to the immigration law debate. Which is why, right now, those who support blanket amnesty for illegals are doing their darned best to do some longterm culturescaping. I DO believe that an answer lies somewhere in the middle, but it will cost massive amounts of money, energy and political capital.

    @mike: If by “we” you mean politicians of ALL parties who crave the illegal alien vote, sure. But residents of Montgomery County, MD are having issues with MS13 and even in that deep-blue bleeding heart county they’re twisting themselves in knots trying to answer that. Virginia decided to just ENFORCE the laws that exist and it’s now a wasteland for illegal immigrant employment. Non-enforcement of laws is not “de facto immunity.” That’s just the gov’t not doing their jobs.

    As for cheap labor: in my area I still know a few folks who hire local kids on the basis of familiarity versus landscapers who hire people “who appear to be illegal” (or, to be blunt, “look Mexican”). Has anyone stopped to think how the ubiquity of illegal alien labor and crime fosters ingrained/subconscious racism?

  10. Brett says:

    My heart bleeds for the jobs the illegal immigrants take from those Americans who’d do it.

    This is true in some areas, not so much in other areas. In the case of agriculture, US citizens haven’t exactly been lining up to do these jobs for well over a century.

    While the illegal aliens are here illegally and should be dealt with (and I agree that it’s not fair to those who go the tortuous legal route to residency, which is an argument for system reform), the real root of the problem has always been that there are employers willing to hire them, and Americans just don’t really care enough about the issue to go after them. Agri-business has been importing illegal labor from Mexico for more than a century, and they subverted virtually every attempt at a crackdown. Now it’s spreading into other areas (virtually all fields of unskilled and low-skilled jobs in America), and until recently every time someone said “Let’s crackdown on the employers”, the employers would say “We need this labor – do you want farming in America or farming in Mexico?”

  11. steve says:

    “If by “we” you mean politicians of ALL parties who crave the illegal alien vote,”

    Yet, no one has caught the illegals actually voting. This means they are very clever or we are not too bright. Most of these illegals are down in red states where you think they would be very motivated to catch them.

    As to the larger issue, something does not make sense. How do they know this is an illegal applying? Would they not risk deportation openly claiming they are illegals? There are lots of college openings, so I dont see anyone not being able to go to college because an illegal goes. If I had a say in this matter, I would say make them pay out of state tuition, but also give back the state taxes the parents have been paying (or some pro-rated portion) assuming they have been working.

    Steve

  12. Anon says:

    While the illegal aliens are here illegally and should be dealt with (and I agree that it’s not fair to those who go the tortuous legal route to residency, which is an argument for system reform)

    For the majority, my understanding is that they would never make it through the waiting list. In other words, for many, there is effectively no legal route. I admittedly don’t know a lot about this.

  13. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by drjjoyner: Should children of illegal aliens get to go to American colleges as in-state students? http://bit.ly/8fq42W

  14. PD Shaw says:

    steve, federal law prohibits the states from providing in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. States that want to avoid this obligation pass laws prohibiting the question from being asked. States that do want to follow federal law ask the question.

    Debate topic: The importance of federalism versus the rule of law.

  15. JKB says:

    I’d say if the payment of taxes in the jurisdiction can be proven then the kid should get in-state rates, but that’d never fly since it would rule out the kids of many Democrat politicians and officials.

  16. Wayne says:

    It seems many don’t understand there is a difference between immigrants and illegal immigrants and residents and illegal residents. They tend to jump over and ignore those facts.

    There is nothing Christian about governments forcible taking people’s money and giving it to someone else. If you want to help and\or give someone money, then do it. However it should be your choice of whom, when and how. This liberal idea of attempting to horde their money while stealing others people money so they can fell like a good Christian is not Christian.

  17. JVB says:

    The remedy is simple and yet illegal immigrants skirt it…apply for permission to be here. It’s insulting to all those who stood in line, filled out the paperwork, and followed all the laws, rules, and regulations to be here just to be sidelined by those who cheat and then belly up to the table for resources to stay here. If you have nothing to hide…why skirt the process? If you are here illegally why are you so willing to take all the hand outs afforded those who need help unless you have stolen what you need to get the help? The fact an illegal is here ILLEGALLY makes them law breakers…criminals. We did the whole amnesty thing not that many years ago and all that did was send out greetings to everyone else not suitable to pass the process to break the law and enter this country ILLEGALLY. Enough. If this country bordered South Africa we wouldn’t have issues with illegal immigrants…there…the race card has been thrown down.

  18. LaurenceB says:

    A two-step solution to the illegal immigration problem:

    1. Provide an “amnesty” to current illegals who pay a hefty fine (for breaking the law), have no criminal record, and pass other standard tests (such as language proficiency).
    2. Increase the quotas for legal immigration from Latin America to a level where illegal immigration becomes a far less attractive option.

    Done.

    No need to thank me.

  19. floyd says:

    LaurenceB;
    You are right about one thing….there’s no need to thank you!
    Your fresh and original idea was tried in the eighties [except for the fines]…and failed!

    Anybody with one eye and half sense can see that a nation that cannot or will not control it’s borders is no nation at all.

  20. LaurenceB says:

    Floyd:

    The quota for legal migration from Mexico is a little over 20,000. Just about what it was when it was originally established in 1976.

    So… No, Step #2 was not “tried in the eighties”.

    What was tried in the eighties was a) amnesty, b) employer sanctions, c) stepped up border patrol, and d) changes to the guest worker programs. And, as you say, it didn’t work.

    But let’s go back even further to something that seemed to work pretty well. Up until the 60’s there wasn’t much of a Mexican illegal alien problem at all. Do you remember what the policy was then?

  21. Herb says:

    “But it does seem perverse to reward their parents for flouting the law.”

    Living in America is its own reward to illegal immigrants. I don’t see why we should make that more unrewarding.

    Immigration reform needs to happen, but it should also be acknowledged that some kind of amnesty is going to be part of it. Not to “reward” the ones who broke the law and “punish” the rule-followers.

    Mostly because you can’t deport millions of people without being a real asshole about it. Yes, practical concerns trump vague behaviorialist ones any day.

  22. Wayne says:

    Re “you can’t deport millions of people without being a real asshole about it.”

    Sometimes in life you need to be an asshole. Also the work place crackdown has resulted in many going back on their own accord. Unfortunately Obama has back off on that aspect.

    As for amnesty, that is about all we ever get. How about some enforcement for once? I for one am tired of one side getting what they want and the other side getting nothing but promises.