The DREAM Act is back and so is the familiar argument offered by those who support granting some form of amnesty to people who arrived or remained in this country illegally before they reached the age of 16: “We should not punish children for the sins of their parents.”
On the surface, there appears to be something morally compelling about this argument. Although the DREAM Act, in its numerous iterations over the years, has not necessarily been limited to “kids,” or to high-achievers as its proponents like to claim, it would undoubtedly benefit many people who, because of their age, are not responsible for having initially violated U.S. immigration laws. No just society would punish people for acts for which they are not responsible, argue supporters of the DREAM Act.
What DREAM Act proponents’ bank on is that our commendable compassion as a nation will cause us to overlook the fundamental flaws in the premise of their argument. The implicit premise of their case for the DREAM Act is that Americans are punishing innocent people by not granting them some form of amnesty. We aren’t.
Not passing the DREAM Act does not mean that we are punishing children for the sins of their parents. What it means is that we are not rewarding children for the sins of their parents. The absence of a benefit or a reward is not the same thing as a punishment.
A second implicit argument of DREAM Act proponent is that it is somehow the fault of American society that people who arrived in the U.S. illegally before age 16 find themselves in a state of legal limbo. One part of that premise is true: They are in a difficult and regrettable situation. The second part is false: It is not American society or American immigration laws that put them there.
Their predicaments are the direct consequence of conscious decisions made by their parents or guardians. It is unfortunately true that children are often harmed by the bad decisions or criminal behavior of their parents. While we regret the harm that these actions cause innocent children, in every other circumstance we hold the parents, not society at large, responsible for the adverse consequences to their children. Is it morally acceptable to absolve parents who violated immigration laws of the consequences of their illegal acts, while we hold other parents responsible when their sins adversely affect their children?
Moreover, the ethical premises posited by DREAM Act advocates will compel us to repeat the process over and over again. If America has a moral obligation to grant amnesty to the current cohort of illegal aliens who arrived in the United State before the age of 16, won’t we have the identical obligation to the next generation of illegal aliens who arrived here under similar circumstances?
As the debate heats up once again it is important that we bear in mind that opposing the DREAM Act does not mean we are punishing anyone for the sins of their parents. For very sound and ethical reasons, we oppose rewarding people for the sins of their parents.