Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dream Act as a Rorschach Test

The Rorschach Test involves presenting an abstract ink blot to an individual and having them interpret it. The individual's response speaks far more about their own psychological and cognitive processes than it does about the actual pattern. And the response of different viewers can diverge to the point were it seems as if they were viewing completely different objects. In many ways the topic of the Dream Act functions like a political Rorschach Test. Most people will agree that the large presence of undocumented students who have resided in the United States for years is symptomatic of a broken immigration system. But, a huge gulf exists between the manner in which different people interpret this phenomena, which speaks more about the subject than the object.

To the supporter of the Dream Act, it's quite obvious: these minors were brought to the United States at no fault of their own and spent the vast majority of their lives in the United States, so the only logical conclusion is to help them pursue a higher education. Not only will this help the prospective students, but it's also in the general economic and social interests of the nation for all residents to become more educated and productive. To the supporters, having so many individuals reside in a legal limbo is inhumane and warrants comprehensive immigration reform. And given the extent of the undocumented population, a return to the enforcement of the law would create significant social and economic disruptions in so many families and communities. So, of course they are inclined to view any opposition to the Dream Act as stemming from racist and anti-immigrant sentiments.

To the opponents of the Dream Act, the fact that these undocumented students and their families lived, worked and studied for so many years is indicative of the systematic failure of the government to enforce existing immigration laws. To these critics the question is not why won't we subsidize the higher education of these students, but why did we offer tax payer funded public education, health care and other services to unlawful residents for so many years? Or, to put it simply, why did the government knowingly not enforce its own laws?

While most critics acknowledge that it's heart breaking to see the lives of well settled and (mostly) hard working individuals being disrupted, they lay the blame on the actions of the parents and the long term inaction of the government. By breaking the law the parents put their children in limbo or at risk. And if the government had enforced the law from the beginning, rather than spent so many years sending mixed signals, the said families would not have invested so much time and energy setting roots in the United States and would not be in their current predicament.

The most notable difference in which both sides interpret this political Rorschach Test is that the proponents tend to focus more on its immediate, emotional aspects, whereas the opponents tend to focus more on the broader, historical elements. The former seeks to alleviate the present situation of students, while (apparently) putting little thought into the future consequences. Whereas, the latter inquire about how we arrived at this impasse in the first place. To them the cause and solution to the problem center on the socio-economic "magnets" that attract undocumented immigrants to the United States in the first place, primarily the relatively easy access to jobs, government services (including free public education) and birthright citizenship.

Since past amnesties and systematic non-enforcement were followed by a marked increase in undocumented immigration, critics reason that the Dream Act will do the same. They believe that it's an example of the government's practice of "kicking the can further down the road," which allowed the problem to grow larger and larger, ensuring that the inevitable return to the rule of law would be more painful and disruptive to more families and communities. Now, we are forced to choose between the social and economic disruption that the enforcement of existing laws would cause or yet another piece meal amnesty that will do nothing to address widespread undocumented immigration. The ruling elite is aware that in cities like Los Angeles, the enforcement of existing laws would create riots and bring the economy to its knees. So, in effect the sovereign right of citizens to determine immigration policy has been substantially eroded. For this reason, a political ink blot that inspires hope for some , causes great indignation for others. As with all Rorschach Tests, the problem is that meaningful debate and the establishment of common ground is challenging at the best of times and provokes rancor at the worst of times.



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