Lies Immigration Reformers Told Me

Likewise, the “no more than three misdemeanors” tally for aspiring Dreamers carries some fine print. DACA will count all the charges arising from a particular incident as a single misdemeanor. A DACA applicant who drives past the speed limit while intoxicated and then resists arrest (all potential misdemeanors in most states) will be counted as having committed one misdemeanor, not three. Nor can we feel any certainty that the public records will reveal all the charges against an applicant. Illegal immigrants sometimes use more than one identity—and their documents do not always tell the truth about their ages either.

As for the educational requirement, Jon Feere of the immigration-skeptical Center for Immigration Studies explains how it has already begun to fade:

The new DACA guidelines note that certain sections of the application can be skipped if the alien is renewing. One section that can now be left blank is the "Education Information" section. In other words, illegal aliens who applied for DACA two years ago and have since dropped out of school are still eligible to receive the amnesty.

This is not a minor loophole. The Migration Policy Institute—a group strongly sympathetic to Obama’s policies—calculates that of the 2.28 million people who potentially meet the age requirements for DACA status, some 473,000 will not be able to meet its requirement for a high-school diploma, current enrollment in school, or honorable completion of military service.

And even the Migration Policy Institute’s shocking number may nevertheless still overestimate the number of DACA Dreamers who will ultimately graduate from high school. The question is not, how many potential Dreamers fail the educational requirement today? The question is, how many Dreamers who were enrolled in school on the date they applied for DACA will remain in school until graduation? Mexican immigrants, who account for about three-quarters of Dreamers, have far and away the highest dropout rate. In 2011, The New York Times studied Census data for Mexican migrants aged 16 to 19 living in New York City, both legal and illegal, and found that 41 percent of them had dropped out of high school. “No other major immigrant group has a dropout rate higher than 20 percent, and the overall rate for the city is less than 9 percent,” the Times reported. The president’s promise that young Dreamers will someday staff America’s nursing wards and EMT ambulances looks unlikely to be fulfilled.

Beneath all of this is the bedrock problem of illegal immigration into an advanced society. In 1914, it was perfectly plausible that the son of an unskilled laborer would acquire a skilled trade. The skilled worker’s children would then advance into business and the professions, achieving the upward mobility of the American dream. 

In the postindustrial economy, however, upward mobility has become considerably more difficult. As Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz report in their pathbreaking Generations of Exclusion: Mexican Americans, Assimilation, and Race, the kind of intergenerational progress gained by millions of families in the early 20th century is receding out of reach for many newer immigrants. While second-generation Mexican Americans generally attain higher levels of schooling than their immigrant parents, the third generation does not on average improve much on the second—and the fourth generation on average falls back below the third. 

From the point of view of immigrants and prospective immigrants, the only thing that matters about immigration policy is what it does for them and their own life chances. Human beings naturally put their own interests first. But from the point of view of the present generation of Americans, the most important question about immigration is whether immigration will benefit the present citizens of the United States, their children and posterity. The answer to that question ultimately turns on the kind of human capital immigrants carry with them into their new country. If it’s low among the immigrants, it’s likely to remain low among their children and grandchildren too. 

The educational testing service ETS issued an alarming report in 2007 warning that average levels of literacy in the workforce of the 2030s will likely be outright lower than in the workforce of the 1990s “as better educated individuals leave the workforce, they will be replaced by those who, on average, have lower levels of education and skill." ETS predicted an outright decline of 5 percent in measured literacy and numeracy by 2030—an unprecedented event in the history of the United States. The projected decline in average skills portends sagging average incomes and intensifying inequality. 

The immigration-policy decisions Americans have collectively made over the past three decades have decisively contributed to the hardening of class divisions inside the United States. Obama’s immigration policies would not only continue those past decisions, but accelerate them—and accelerate too the loss of faith in institutions that follows when authorities sell their policies with promises they know from the start they intend to break.

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David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

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