November 1, 2014

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Before we help others, help ourselves

Dec. 22, 2010

By Kayla Purvis

A bill has been proposed that would provide legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant students living in America. It’s called the DREAM Act, and it lost its chance for 2010 as the Senate voted 55-41 on Sunday, five votes short of the number required to pass the bill.

The bill would allow children of illegal immigrants to become citizens through either two years of college, two years of service in the American military or a clean criminal background check. This sounds appealing and relatively harmless, and it’s a nice idea — I will give it that. I don’t doubt that it is well-intended.

This is, however, not the right time for a bill like the DREAM Act to pass in the United States. A common argument I hear from people who oppose Arizona’s immigration law and tightening security on our borders is this: the lives of the foreigners are far worse, and they could do better here. I won’t argue that some may be able to do better here than their native country.

While estimates fluctuate, the number of homeless Americans, according to a 2009 study by the National Coalition for the Homeless, is between 2.3 million and 3.5 million — 3.5 million! With a national population of about 300 million, that’s approximately 1 percent. Our jobless rate is still stuck in the 9-point range, according to the Financial Forecast Center. This means that we still have work to do at home before we start opening our doors to immigrants.

One thing I admire about America is our feeling that we need to take care of everyone else. It’s also something that can be, and often is, one of our biggest setbacks and flaws. Yes, a lot of immigrants want to come here for a better life, but with 3 million homeless Americans and a jobless rate near 10 percent, how can we possibly let them believe they will be any better taken care of here?

The bill that was proposed was too broad and would have made it too easy for immigrants to come here. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow immigrants. That is, legal ones. But I do have a problem with people sneaking into America and working under-the-table jobs, while there are thousands of Americans who are legitimately entitled to those jobs. What concerns me about this DREAM Act is not the fact that it would give citizenship to immigrants, but that it would make it too easy for too many immigrants to come here before we are back in a healthy economic place.

Employers are not stupid. Given the chance, they would much rather hire the person willing to work for lower wages. It’s more important for us to focus on getting our own people back to work, fixing that jobless rate and finding Constitutionally acceptable solutions to our approximately 1 percent homelessness rate. If we don’t do that and continue to spend so much time on other issues, we aren’t going to help ourselves. The faster we get back on track, the faster we can get back to helping those immigrants.

The United States has the potential to be what it used to be … it will just take a lot of work to get there. We can still be that place where everyone sees opportunity and prosperity. But if we don’t zero in on getting ourselves back on track before we pass bills like the DREAM Act, then we are only digging ourselves in deeper. It isn’t fair to Americans if the government tries to take care of illegal inhabitants before it tries to help its own people. It’s like the advice that is given to missionaries traveling to countries with starving children: don’t give all your food away; you aren’t of much help if you start starving too.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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