Want to pass the DREAM Act? Let's combine mercy with justice

Want to pass the DREAM Act? Let's combine mercy with justice
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Why hasn’t Congress been able to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act despite 16 years of trying?

One answer could be that it's because it is a "win-lose" bill. It provides legal status for those brought into the United States illegally as children (known as "Dreamers") while totally ignoring justice for the American victims of job-related felonies committed by those Dreamers.

According to one survey conducted jointly between the University of California, United We Dream (UWD), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), 43.9 percent of those who would be covered by the proposed DREAM Act worked before they gained DACA status. That percentage increased to 60.7 percent for DACA recipients over 25 years of age.

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The problem is that those Dreamers were unable to legally obtain Social Security numbers, which are required for employment purposes. As a result, in many cases, they used numbers that they obtained fraudulently. In fact, the unlawful use of Social Security numbers is so pervasive that the Obama administration instructed Dreamers not to disclose them when they applied for DACA status.

 

Thus, American citizens whose Social Security numbers were used illegally were left with problems including destroyed credit, arrest records attached to their names, unpaid tax liabilities and corrupted medical records while the Dreamers who were granted DACA status were allowed to walk away from felony crimes such as forgery, Social Security fraud, perjury on I-9 forms and identity theft.

How can Congress fix the problem? An easy answer is that it could try combining mercy for the Dreamers with justice for their American victims. A few provisions that could be added to such a law:

  • Require Dreamers to disclose each and every Social Security number they used for employment or other purposes;
  • Require government employees to advise the rightful owners of those Social Security numbers that they have been compromised; and
  • Restitution for the victims of immigration-related identity theft.

This represents a win-win solution. Dreamers would be able to resolve their immigration status and they would receive amnesty for job-related felonies. American citizens would receive justice through a program that enables them to recover from the devastating financial and emotional consequences that identity theft places on them.

How would restitution work? The DREAM Act could establish a “Dreamer Victims Restitution Fund” (DVRF) funded by a fine paid by each applicant who unlawfully used a Social Security number. The fines could also be tier-based; for instance, a sum of $3,000 for the unlawful use of one number, and $5,000 for the unlawful use of two or more Social Security numbers. Expenses incurred by those who need to fix their credit, arrest and medical records, and by those who need to wipe out unpaid tax liabilities linked to their Social Security numbers, would be reimbursed from the DVRF up to a certain limit.

How would Dreamers get the money to pay the restitution fine? If Dreamers or their parents were unable to pay the fines, the U.S. Chamber, Mark Zuckerberg’s Fwd.US, religious organizations, employers, sanctuary cities and others who support the Dreamers could help applicants cover the cost. It would be better than insisting that those who came here illegally receive amnesty while Americans shoulder all of the costs.

The bottom line is that if the DREAM Act is to be fair to both Dreamers and their victims, it needs to combine mercy with justice. Perhaps a win-win approach will change the fortunes of the Dream Act after 16 years of failed attempts to pass it.

Ronald Mortensen is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (@wwwCISorg), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Utah and previously worked as a Foreign Service Officer.