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Dream a little DREAM: A solution to US illegal immigration that is fair to all

In US immigration debate, compassion for children brought here illegally by parents, and fairness to citizens and legal immigrants do not have to be diametrically opposed. Congress and Obama can grant lawful permanent resident status under a version of the now-defunct DREAM Act.

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Gladys Castro, 18, of Fontana, Calif., talks about the DREAM Act's failure to pass the Senate in September 2010. Ms. Castro, who calls herself an undocumented immigrant, was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley, but had to delay her entry because she and her family couldn't afford the school.

AP Photo/The Sun, Rick Sforza

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Compassion and fairness – these are two of the seemingly incompatible competing concerns in the debate over US immigration. It’s a tension that has even played out in the heated contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

Americans are called to compassion for young undocumented immigrants who, present in the United States through no fault of their own, are culturally Americans. On the other side, a sense of fairness and justice demands that all the aspiring immigrants and American citizens who obeyed the rules and waited their turn in line will not have to watch those who did not obey the rules skip ahead – and that American citizens and legal immigrants will not have to deal with the repercussions of illegal immigrants given legal residency.

Fortunately, compassion and fairness do not have to be diametrically opposed. Congress and the Obama administration can exhibit both compassion and fairness with the creation of a special category of “green card” or lawful permanent resident status under a version of the now-defunct DREAM Act.

The right to remain in the US legally is one of the greatest gifts that can be conferred on someone who is not a US citizen. Compassion – and common sense – empowers this country to grant a special class of lawful permanent resident status to someone who was brought to the US by others at a very young age and has grown up as an American. There should be limits to this compassion, though. Those receiving this act of grace should be barred from sponsoring other immigrants or becoming a full US citizen.

There are sound rationales for these limitations. If the recipient of lawful permanent resident status is deemed blameless for their being brought by parents to the US, then the people who are culpable for the illegal immigration – the parents – should not be able to benefit by having their child sponsor them to become legal permanent residents. A bar to US citizenship also places an onus on the beneficiary to comply with the criminal laws of the country. (It is possible for legal noncitizens to lose their status in this country because they engage in criminal activity.)

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