Friday, September 10, 2010

Do we really believe all people have the same rights?

Jay Mathews posted two good essays from teenage illegal immigrants on why they have a right to federal financial aid money for college.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the first essay uses "undocumented people" and "Latinos" interchangeably. I'm glad she is Latino or that would be racist. (I also wonder if she thinks illegal immigrants from Haiti deserve the same rights.)

My intuition is that I'd vote to give these kids financial aid. I have serious reservations endorsing financial aid in general and I think there is a small risk Latino students may well be crowding out other students (either for spots in college or for aid money). But on the whole that is probably tax money better spent than the marginal dollar would be, esp. because there might be positive externalities to education.

But what I think is more interesting here is how Patricia structures her argument. The basic idea is that education is a right that Americans have--Americans have a right to a Pell grant if they qualify and to enroll in community college, etc. And since Patricia lives in the United States she deserves a Pell grant and a chance to enroll too. But, interestingly, if Patricia grew up in Mexico, we wouldn't have a problem with the fact that she might not have money to go to high school, much less college. We might not even have a problem if she were malnourished as a kid. Or maybe we'd have a problem, but we wouldn't think it's the U.S. governments' responsibility to pay for it.

Why is that? Why do we implicitly allow where people are born determine what we think they have a right to?

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