Monday, November 5, 2012

A Practical Argument for Ballot Question 4: The DREAM Act (Monday LINKS)

I consider myself a very practical person (don't we all).  By that, I mean that if I feel my emotions are pushing me in a certain direction, I will try to step back and check under the hood to see what reasoning I am relying on to make that decision.  Sometimes, there is no one behind the curtain, and I have to acknowledge to myself that the decision may be rash or impractical, but most of the time I can find some bones beneath the flesh or otherwise change my mind altogether.

When the DREAM Act was first passed, I concluded that it was a bad law.  "Our state can't afford to subsidize education for illegal immigrants."  Right?  That makes sense.  Oddly enough, as I went to look further at the reasoning underlying this position, I found that it was based almost entirely off of presumptions and had very little basis in fact.

The United States does not have an "immigration" problem.  We have an "unskilled immigrant" problem.  Our legal immigration system is so dysfunctional that we effectively deter highly educated immigration and encourage illegal immigration, which, as so aptly noted by the right, creates a class of "criminal immigrants."  So what do we do now?  We can place additional regulations and fines on small businesses to create "voluntary deportation" of spurned employees or we can reform the current system to foster legal immigration, deter illegal immigration, and incorporate those who already find themselves within our borders.  Nevertheless, this pipe dream can only exist at the federal level, leaving state's holding the bag on a current class of unskilled illegal immigrants.

In order to address the current state of things in Maryland, our State Legislature saw fit to pass the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented illegal immigrant students the right to pay in-state tuition at a community college once they've completed three years of high school in Maryland.  A student's eligibility is also premised on their family filing Maryland income taxes from the time they are in high school through the time they graduate college.  The student must obtain at least 60 credits at a Maryland community college before they may transfer to a four-year institution.

1) Barriers to Entry -- Our current economy holds education out at a barrier to entering the middle class.  Unless you have an associate's degree or technical certification, it is incredibly difficult to live above poverty.  On the other side of things, if you were to look at the rolls of citizens (illegal and legal alike) receiving government services or assistance, you would find a direct correlation with education.  At present, the financial barriers to even community college education are too steep for even the most motivated student if they do not have access to in-state tuition.  If you look at the table for HCC, you'll see that the difference between "in-county" and "out-of-state" rates is almost double.

2) Path to Citizenship -- The President has already announced that any student graduating from college by way of the DREAM Act will be allowed a work permit to assist them in a path to citizenship.  Getting away from forms, proof of birth, character statements, and citizenship tests, if we were to create an optimal path to citizenship for current immigrants, education would be the key.  Maybe you are inclined to say that educated immigrants under the DREAM Act will take jobs away from other Maryland students, but if that is your concern, you should turn your gaze to India, China, and the whole of Europe, who have sent skilled immigrants to the United States to take high paying jobs and, oh by the way, further fuel our economic productivity.

3) An Investment in Maryland -- There can be no question that there will be a cost for the DREAM Act, although you would be hard pressed to find those numbers in the editorials supporting the law.  A UMBC study found that by 2016, state and local governments will share a total cost of $7.5 million a year, with approximately $50,000 a year from the federal government.  This study went on to find that these costs would eventually be off-set by income and sales tax, as well as decreased costs in public services.  For each class of students assisted by the DREAM Act, there would be an estimated return in taxes of $24.6 million.  Hmm.  I'm no investment guru, but if I asked you to invest $8 million, for a total return of $24.6 million (ignoring the societal benefit of an educated workforce), I think you would sign on. 

It's not a perfect bill.  Opponents will say it will make Maryland even more of a "sanctuary state" than it already is, and provide a magnet for illegal immigrants, ignoring the 6 year trend of reverse migration and the long-term planning that would be necessary for a family of immigrants to take advantage of this bill, but even if they're right those are just additional shares of a long term investment in Maryland.  If we have the highest concentration of educated immigrants in the Country, our economy will thrive, businesses will move to the State to take advantage of this work-force, and the return on investment will increase.

For addition insight on this topic, please read Council Member Calvin Ball's editorial in the Flier.  As you may already be aware, Dr. Ball is a professor at Morgan State and has seen the transformative power of education.


It's almost over, folks!  Despite the admonition that polling would be handicapped by Hurricane Sandy, I have not been able to take my eyes off the polls for the last week.  I particularly enjoy Nate Silver's analysis over at the FiveThiryEight blog.  He not only analyzes the polls, but also explains the hidden faults in the data and the uncertainty in the statistical process.  I think if this blog had been around ten years ago, I may have avoided a certain blemish on my college transcript.

David Frum writes the most compelling argument for Mitt Romney that I have read so far this election.

Andrew Sullivan responds to the Frum piece with a more emotional rebuttal, but its worth reading both together.

Council member Calvin Ball has proposed a bill creating hiring preferences for disabled veterans and other applicants with disabilities after noting that approximately 5,000 of the 6,000 individuals in Howard County with disabilities were considered "not in a labor force."  The County, as an employer, has the opportunity to provide additional opportunities for employment that may not exist in the private sphere.  When I worked for the DoD, there was a special program hiring blind cashiers for building snack bars.  It was amazing to see a man who could not see operate an entire shop with small tricks he had learned to govern the store.  I think Dr. Ball is on to something big here and hope the rest of the Council will support this law.

Council Member Watson has proposed a bill to the State General Assembly seeking funding to create multidisciplinary teams in each jurisdiction to address bullying.  This is a slippery subject without a real answer.  I look forward to hearing more about this bill and seeing what is possible.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: It appears that our friend WB has found himself at the other end of a threatening letter from a lawyer retained by Board of Education member Brian Meshkin.  This is what happens when you start to believe your own press releases.   

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!