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Don’t Doubt the DREAM

Given the GOP’s current enforcement-first fixation, it’s pretty clear that comprehensive immigration reform legislation won’t go forward this year. This explains a renewed push for the DREAM Act, a limited bill that has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress since 2001; some say it could actually pass after this year’s November elections.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Lugar, sets out a path to citizenship for an estimated 2.1 million undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children who currently or agree to attend college or serve in the military. And by offering legal status to undocumented students, the DREAM Act would better enable them to access college education, secure higher paying jobs and contribute more in taxes to our economy. Now more than ever, passing the DREAM Act seems like a no-brainer.

But the immigration restrictionist crowd, not surprisingly, is unconvinced. Roy Beck, head of NumbersUSA, offers a common objection: “[The Act] would lead to chain migration. And they would create a lot of extra competition for our own students." First, the DREAM Act would not result in chain migration. Beneficiaries are barred from sponsoring extended family members, and must wait at least six years to add parents or siblings to the sometimes decades-long visa backlog.

Beck also tries unsuccessfully to pit DREAM Act-eligible students against native-born Americans. But what he misses is that students eligible for the DREAM Act grew up in this country, speak English, went to school alongside native-born Americans, and importantly, adopted our values. Many of these students barely remember their “home country.” They are our students. Moreover, offering legal status to these currently undocumented immigrants has clear benefits for middle-class Americans; with legal status, these immigrants can more freely open businesses, buy homes and otherwise boost our economy.

For their part, the Center for Immigration Studies raises a fairly ridiculous question about the DREAM Act: “Should we push people who would not otherwise voluntarily attend college into higher education primarily because they want legal status, not because they want to learn?” This is a willful distortion of what’s going on here. Most undocumented high school graduates don’t go to college because they can’t, not because they don’t want to or don’t value education. These students are not allowed to apply for scholarships and financial aid, nor can they work legally to pay for college. It’s wrong to say that the DREAM Act isn’t going to force “mostly not-very-interested-in-education young people” to pursue higher education. The DREAM Act will, however, make it easier for young immigrants to invest in themselves and join the better-educated workforce that our country undoubtedly needs. In addition, the DREAM Act would provide a powerful incentive for the estimated one-fifth to one-sixth of undocumented students who dropout of high school each year to continue their education.

Immigration foes should realize that the DREAM Act commands support from both sides of the aisle, and as such is increasingly likely to go forward this year. For good reason: everyone, even immigration restrictionists, has a stake in the ability of these young immigrants to more fully contribute to our nation.

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Jul 09, 2010 in Immigration
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