Monday, January 16, 2006

Guilty Parties

It turns out the one of the bigger bloggers on the net, Wizbang, has posted a response to my call for giving the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants who have spent the majority of their educational careers in the states the benefit of in-state tuition. I really wish these people would trackback to me specifically, rather than my pointer posts at TMV. Actually, that goes for comments too. But I digress.

The crux of my argument was that these people came over as children and thus should not be held responsible for "illegal" activities. Wizbang proclaims to "demolish" that argument through the following:
First, let's look at the "punishing the children for the sins of their parents" argument. This is quite easily demolished by pointing out that these "children" are, in nearly all cases, at least 18 years old -- legal adults and responsible for themselves and their actions and decisions. They can try to make right their status, or not -- but either way, they are liable for it.

Second, almost no college student these days pays their own way. It is the parents that scrape, save, and borrow up the skyrocketing costs of college. By giving the students access to the lower rate, that is a de facto benefit to the parents in many of those cases.

The first objection misses the point. If we agree that at age 12, or whenever, they can't be held responsible for being sent to America, then I think it's facile to expect them to deport themselves at age 18. The analysis remains the same as in my previous arguments--they don't have a home to go back to in most cases, they are for all they know Americans. The "they can try to make right their status" is a straw man--the likely result of that is that they'll be deported along with their families. Forcing these kids to play Russian Roulette with their whole families is just as bad as outright barring them from college. The point I'm making is that this whole process is unreasonable and wildly disproportionate to the gravity of the "offense" (which, at root, as that these kids had the temerity to buy into the American dream and the misfortune to be born into families who couldn't secure legal status).

The second point is also pretty far off. Given how poor these families are, I'm not sure that the parents will be paying either. Under most circumstances, these are the income levels whose educations would nearly entirely be paid by loans, grants, and work study. But as has been pointed out, illegal immigrants can't get tuition assistance, so that's out. So it's probably going to be the kid herself who scrapes the money together in all likelihood. But even where that isn't the case, I think it's a bit too glib to act as if the opportunity here is to get half-off on the tuition (which Wizbang says is going to the parents, not the kid). The benefit is that the kid gets to go to college--the financial issues we're dealing with are just instrumental to that end.

Then he proceeds to a series of arguments that argue that the difference in status between illegal immigrants and citizens or legal immigrants creates legal and material justifications beyond mean spiritness that justifies the disparate treatment. But again, this is circular. If we were giving illegal immigrants the right to, say, register for the selective service, and they refused to do it, that would be one thing. But to my knowledge illegal immigrants couldn't register even if they wanted to. At the point where we're barring them from filling a certain requirement on account of immigration status, then prohibiting them from receiving a benefit on account of not meeting that requirement, it's the same as banning them for being illegals. That not persuading you? Well here's a bold proposal: Legalize the status of any illegal immigrant who is admitted to four year college or university in the US. That would incentivize good behavior, insure that we keep our best-and-brightest in the states, stop the blatant waste of potential in the status quo, and would chop off the legality arguments all in one swoop. Wouldn't I love to see a politician with the cajones to pitch that one on the campaign trail.

The discrimination argument is just wrong--the immigrants have the same right as any other US citizen--to be given in-state tuition in the state he or she resides.

The first finite resources argument is absurd if one believes, and I do, that college admissions should be vaguely meritocratic and not some sort of neo-feudalist product of birthright. If they earned a spot at the university, I really don't care that a "red-blooded American" doesn't get in. The second one is operates on shaky assumptions--that the illegals who won't be going to college but would with half-tuition are being replaced by out-of-state, not in-state, students.

The next argument is the only one I find vaguely convincing--that legal residents pay some of the money through taxes and thus get a "rebate" (there isn't any reason to assume that illegal aliens who stay in-state for college are any more likely to leave for work than legals--assuming, that is, the government doesn't step in and deport them). Ultimately, this argument isn't persuasive to me because it seems to trivialize the nature of the program--I view it as assisting residents in pursuing something that will be a communal boon, he seems to see at as souped-up Discover Card bonus program (for every X dollars you spend, we'll throw in $1 of tuition money! It's what we do for loyal customers.). Funding college may be a burden on the state in the short term, it is true. But there's a reason why they do it--over the long run, a highly educated workforce is good for the state and the nation.

At the end, he falls back on the old "it insults people who do it legally." Again, since we aren't talking about adults but children, that argument just doesn't fly with me. I see the two situations as massively and qualitatively different.

Before I go, I just want to briefly address the all-too-common "it's illegal and that's all there is to it" argument. Aside from the fact that people like me would absolutely like these persons to be legalized (and it is the right that frothes up at the barest hint of an amnesty of sorts), again, I don't think the people we're talking about specifically can be held accountable for their law breaking. And in any event, I advocate changing the law, so don't lecture me about "upholding" it.

Update: I'd be remiss if I didn't link to this post by Dan Filler showing what happens when a city (in this case, Birmingham, Alabama), takes the "enforce the law" approach too far:
According to the Birmingham News , "any illegal immigrant who comes in contact with deputies - whether as an offender, a county jail inmate or even a victim - is fair game for the database." The data will be shared with the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Local sheriffs apparently don't have jurisdiction to arrest individuals for violation of immigration laws.)

Notwithstanding the need to maintain border control, this expansive policy strikes me as troubling.

First, I worry that it will stifle crime reporting by undocumented crime victims. This is bad all around. The victims cannot rest safe because the culprits are still loose. And since some offenders repeat their crimes, the policy will leave these folks free to target others - documented and undocumented alike. The sheriff's office is apparently aware of this risk, but simply does not care. When asked about the danger of deterring crime reporting, a department spokesman said: "I hope that's not a byproduct of this, and if it is, it's unfortunate. However, we believe the greater good is having information on the people who are in our country illegally."

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