Sunday, December 12, 2010

DREAMing of Nurses

Jason Mazzone

Immigration law in the United States has never done a very good job of promoting the nation's economic interests. The proposed "Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act" (DREAM Act) is a case in point. The DREAM Act would provide aliens of "good moral character" who arrived in the United States illegally as minors a path to permanent residency and citizenship if they graduate high school and complete two years in the military or two years of college.

Supporters of the Act say that conditioning legalization on fulfillment of one of these two requirements will benefit the nation militarily and economically. The economic argument is that the individuals who make it through the process will be the best and the brightest, with the skills to find employment. This is a dubious claim. Two years of undefined college education do not make somebody very marketable, particularly in the current economy.

Congress should align the DREAM Act more plainly with the country's economic needs.

The country faces a shortage of nurses. Various studies predict a shortfall of around 500,000 nurses within the next fifteen years as the baby boomer generation ages. In place of the DREAM Act's nebulous requirement of two years of college, Congress should condition legalization upon completion of nursing training and five years of employment as a registered nurse. The DREAM Act can in this way be a win-win, conferring a benefit on the alien whose status is regularized and on the nation.

The proposal need not be limited to nursing. The country also faces a shortage of other health care professionals (including primary care physicians) and the DREAM Act should likewise provide a means of legalization to individuals who commit to working in those professions.

The point is that if Congress is inclined to deal with the problem of individuals who entered the United States unlawfully as children, it can--and should--do so in a way most likely to serve the nation's economic interests.

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