As Governor Jerry Brown has just signed the California Dream Act into law to allow illegal immigrants to receive state-financed aid for college, the United States should wake up to two mutually reinforcing realities about our broken immigration system. 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 not providing a decent standard of living for its 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 200 million to more than 310 million in fewer than four decades. This means that states like California need 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 twenty-first century. Supporters of the California Dream Act 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, 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. Governor Brown and his allies in Sacramento should advocate an American foreign policy that reorients 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.
A second fact lost on supporters of the California Dream Act is that global prosperity requires a new narrative on immigration and cross border migration. If we allow the poor from countries like Mexico to escape to states like California and then redistribute the Golden State's stretched resources 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 therefore it is imperative that wealth be created indigenously.
This is especially true for the economies of Mexico, Central and South America. We must immediately launch a Marshall Plan for our neighbors to the south, establish a micro-finance plan for those who want to go back to their home countries but need start-up capital, and 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.
In 2009 California imported $89 billion worth of goods from China. Imagine for a moment a scenario where Californians purchased these same goods 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 in states like California 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 by 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, we should support the Dream Act but with one caveat: eligibility should be contingent on a willingness of students to return to their homelands and help in the economic development of their home countries. This way, an educated Salvadoran or Mexican or Ghanaian can contribute to the socio-economic situation of his or her country by taking advantage of a world-class education. Overtime, creating wealth in El Salvador, Mexico and Ghana is to everyone's advantage, including the taxpayers of California.
Rob Sobhani, Ph.D. is CEO of the Caspian Group and a graduate of Georgetown University.
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