Keeping the American Dream
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 09:09
Two mutually reinforcing truths about America get lost in the verbal insults and legal battles of the DREAM Act.
First, America's failed immigration system is the flip side of a failed foreign policy. For example, Mexican officials are allowed to export their revolution to the United States by failing to provide a decent standard of living for their citizens, who then have to come to the U.S. in search of a better future. In short, America has not insisted on good governance in Mexico.
In the meantime, our country has grown from 250 million to 310 million in fewer than two decades. This means that our already broken economic system needs to produce more jobs, protect more of the vulnerable; and build more schools, roads and bridges.
The problem is that the welfare system we have created along with a broken immigration system is unaffordable under the demographic and economic circumstances of the 21st century. Some would argue that we would not have become a global superpower without opening our doors to immigrants; that smart, self-motivated immigrants spur the innovations and create the jobs our economy needs to thrive. This may be true, but it does not tell the whole story.
It is our system of government, our culture and our way of life that allowed Sonia Sotomayor to become the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, Sergey Brin to co-found Google, Pierre Omidyar to found eBay and Fareed Zakaria to rise to fame as a journalist and the host of a prominent TV show. There are hundreds of Sotomayors in Puerto Rico, Brins in Russia, Omidyars in Iran and Zakarias in India. One of the main reasons why they are successful in America is because of our system. American foreign policy must reorient itself to the soft power of exporting American values and know-how so the Sotomayors, Brins, Omidyars and Zakarias in Puerto Rico, Russia, Iran and India can find success at home.
Secondly, global prosperity requires a new narrative on immigration and cross border migration. If we allow the poor to escape to the rich and then redistribute this wealth to take care of the needy new arrivals, we will only impoverish ourselves in the process. Global prosperity must increase if we are to address this issue seriously, and thus, it is imperative that wealth be created indigenously — especially for the economies of Mexico, Central and South America.
We must immediately launch a Marshall Plan for our neighbors to the south and establish a micro-finance plan for those who want to go back to their home countries but need start-up capital. We need to create a private-public partnership plan so that jobs are created south of the U.S. border and immigrants (illegal and legal) who are living in the U.S. have the option to return to their homelands and re-build new lives for themselves. Last year, America imported 8 billion dollars worth of toys from China. Imagine for a moment a scenario where American consumers purchased these same toys from our southern neighbors, creating a win-win situation for all involved — except the authoritarian regime in China.
It is in this context of a new narrative on the soft power of exporting American values and need to create wealth south of our border that the DREAM Act must be debated — and ultimately supported. Allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend state public universities is a good idea, provided we ask these students that once they complete their studies, they return to their home countries to serve and rebuild.
In the 1960s, the government of Iran established the Education Corps and Health Corps, made up of young men and women with college degrees from the U.S., who served their country by teaching reading and writing and administering health care. This model can be duplicated across America where legions of illegal students armed with U.S. college diplomas in economics, engineering, computer science and health management fan across the globe and embed themselves in their native communities to serve and rebuild.
In short, Congress must support the DREAM Act with one caveat: Eligibility should be contingent on a willingness to return to one's homelands and help in the economic development of one's home country. This way, an educated Salvadoran or Mexican or Ghanaian can contribute to the socioeconomic situation of his or her country by taking advantage of the generosity of American taxpayers. Over time, creating wealth in El Salvador, Mexico and Ghana is to everyone's advantage.
With America's own domestic troubles, we forget about our relationship with other less wealthy nations. We have forgotten about the DREAM Act. The future of American foreign policy should focus on continuing to provide resources to give others the American dream.
Rob Sobhani holds a degree in Political Economy from Georgetown University and was an adjunct professor from 1989-2005.