Ann Miller recently made the case that the MD DREAM Act encourages legal immigrants to become illegal. While I like Ann and think she generally does a good job with her writing, she’s really missed the mark on this one.

In essence, her argument boils down to the argument that because the MD DREAM Act gives a benefit to illegal immigrants but not to legal immigrants, that creates an incentive for legal immigrants to become illegal immigrants.

All other things being equal, that might be true. The problem is, all other things aren’t equal. To paraphrase the great Frédéric Bastiat, we have to consider both those things which are seen and those which are unseen.

The simple fact is, being an illegal immigrant sucks. It’s a wretched, horrible life that imposes massive burdens, both economic and psychological, even for the luckiest amongst them. No one wants to be an illegal immigrant – they’d just rather be an illegal immigrant than trapped in the hellhole that was their former country.

As an illegal immigrant a person:

  • Lives in constant fear of deportation
  • Cannot participate in the above ground economy
  • Has to be scared of seeking help from law enforcement if they are victimized
  • Are more likely to be targeted by thieves and other criminals because of the (justifiable) reluctance to seek help from law enforcement
  • Possesses a generally lower standard of living than equally poor Americans
  • Is denied access to most welfare programs that benefit the poor
Balance all of the above against the sole benefit of the MD DREAM Act, reduced tutition, with no pathway to citizenship like the federal DREAM Act offered, and I can’t imagine there are any legal immigrants for whom a shift from legal status to illegal status would be beneficial.
Immigrants aren’t stupid, especially ones who are successful at navigating the impossible maze that is our legal immigration system. They know full well what it means to be an illegal immigrant, so does anyone really think they’re going to weigh all the negatives noted above against the meager benefits of the MD DREAM Act and decide to give up their legal status?