The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, (DREAM Act) is a bipartisan bill that could help guide immigrant children toward legal status.

Author: Noel Marie Laplume
Date: December 16, 2010

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly known as the DREAM Act, is a bipartisan bill that would give undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as young children a path toward legal status if they meet certain criteria and attend college or serve in the military. After a series of hurdles and long-winded arguments, the bill was once again heavily debated last week during the Congressional lame duck session where it was brought up for vote. After narrowly passing in the House of Representatives, it was tabled by Democratic Senator Harry Reid upon reaching the Senate floor presumably so that it could be spared from the expected Republican filibuster and so that it could be brought back at a later, more favorable date. In spite of our profound disappointment, all over the country there are millions of people from all walks of life who will not let this go unchallenged. To them this is nothing more than just a bump in the road. This minor setback is the latest in the 10-year battle that has comprised the life of the DREAM Act- but it will not be the last. This bill is one that has been continuously re-introduced in every session since 2001 with its basic contours remaining unchanged. As things stand now, the prodigious effects this bill would have on our country and its people are so great that the momentum will continue on until this dream held by tens of thousands of people becomes a reality for us all.

While it is widely recognized that Immigration from foreign countries is symptomatic to the vacuum that forms from the U.S.’s demand for labor, the commonly prescribed solution to this problem has very little effects on reducing the rate of immigration. Even though increasing border security helps plug some of its most porous junctures along the Mexico-U.S. divide- it does nothing to counteract the incentives that drive immigration in the first place. Because the rate of illegal entry into the country is so steep, and since all of the measures that have been enacted have thus far proven to be futile, the notion that illegal immigration is spiraling out of control is palpable. In the midst of all of this chaos, it is imperative that the legislative bodies remain able to discern the good from bad so as to not lose sight of the ultimate target. That is why it comes to no surprise that the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, is an avid supporter of the DREAM Act since it would efficiently free up the country’s resources so that they may be used effectively to detain and deport criminals and those who actually pose a threat to our national security. The reason why her support for the bill is not surprising is due to the official position she holds which makes her painfully aware of the fact that the annual budgets for border protection have skyrocketed without a substantially positive yield. Today the U.S. Border Patrol budget has inflated to $3 billion per year, while the combined budgets of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) have grown from $9.1 billion in the year 2003 to $17.2 billion this year. Moreover, because there is an ever-growing immigrant population, our government has to make sure that our resources are used in the most cost-effective manner; thus, enacting the DREAM Act will help alleviate the congestion that is currently crippling the system.

According to 2010 U.S. Census projections recently released, Hispanics under the age of 20 make up between 21.8 % and 25% of the total youth population in the U.S.- a significant increase over the 17% calculations derived from the 2000 census. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show that passing the DREAM Act would bring between 300,000 to 500,000 of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, and that the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next 10 years, along with increasing revenues by $2.3 billion by increasing the number of authorized workers. According to a study published by the non-partisan National Immigration Law Center, the State of Florida houses approximately 192,000 students who are eligible for benefits under DREAM, thereby estimating that Florida’s youth account for 9% of all the potential DREAM beneficiaries in the country. It also reported that Florida, which is currently “struggling with a budget shortfall of at least $2.5 billion” for the incoming year, would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of DREAM since it would help alleviate the deficit through increasing the tax revenues for the state. Considering the estimates issued by the Internal Revenue Service, the average person who graduates with a bachelor’s degree makes an average annual salary of $60,000 and generates about $11,194 in tax revenue each year. The fact that Florida State University estimated that only 5% of undocumented high-school graduates go to college means that the State of Florida is adversely affected by not making higher-education more accessible to its immigrant population. If only half of Florida’s DREAM beneficiaries would attain a degree, they would generate over $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year. In that same vein, it was reported that simply obtaining legal status would contribute to the average DREAM beneficiary earning “$1 million more over his or her lifetime”. Moreover, the state of Florida alone would net tens of thousands of additional dollars in taxes if DREAM were to become law.

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke has underscored the untapped potential of young people in “citizenship limbo” when he mentioned that in the “last 15 years, 25% of venture capital backed companies that eventually went public were started by immigrants”. These companies range from a wide array of industries and operate all over the country, but apart from providing countless jobs, companies like DuPont, Google, Procter and Gamble, and Intel all have one other thing in common- they were started by immigrants. Locke attests to the fact that immigration and innovation are inextricably linked in saying that “The constant influx of new cultures, new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems is a big part of the reason why America has been the most dynamic economy in the world for well over a century.” New York Major Michael Bloomberg recently restated what academics and advocates have been saying for years: “immigrants are critically important in doing the work and creating the businesses that keep our economy strong and growing.” Through The Partnership for a New American Economy, he has joined several political figures and business leaders to extol the economic benefits of immigration reform. One such partner who is the Chairman and CEO of Boeing, Jim McNerney, is quoted saying “Immigration reform is a critically important issue-one that will play a big part in our nation’s ability to create and sustain jobs for years to come.” Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer is another advocate who urges a change for the sake of the country’s competitive standing in the world, “Now more than ever the U.S. needs smart immigration policies to build the innovation workforce of the future.” A study promulgated by this foundation states that by attaining a legal status, “immigrant workers would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP in the next 10 years.” Though evident that the potential is very high, contributions to the economy and work force cannot be made on such a grand scale without previously having had a chance to partake in our country’s world-class higher-education. A New York Times article interpreting the data being released from the 2010 U.S. Census indicates that “graduation rates for blacks and Hispanics- the overwhelming majority of all immigrants in the U.S.- are far below those for whites”. It further went on to assert that this trend will put the country at a “growing shortage of educated Americans as global competition intensifies, particularly as other countries’ graduation levels rise.” It is estimated that about 65,000 high school students are barred from attending college or cannot get a good job on account of their illegal status. Since its founding, The United States of America has borne witness to the benefits that come from being a magnet for immigrants from all parts of the world. Yet, in spite of having invested enormous amounts of money to publicly fund the elementary and secondary education of many of these immigrants, the country will lose its return on that investment because some of our most talented students are deported from the country or are forced to take jobs that do not maximize their full potential. These young people could be our future scientists, doctors, military leaders, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. At its core, the DREAM Act seeks to give these youths the opportunity to advance and succeed while simultaneously becoming an asset- and not a hindrance- for our country.

In order to conclude such an insightful feature, I would like to employ the words of a man whose wisdom and vision earned him the respect of the international community at large: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” The author of such quote, Nelson Mandela, managed to bring an end to the apartheid that plagued the South African country for decades by discriminating against its own. In our country we are experiencing a similar divide that seeks to ignore countless youth that were brought up in this country and who treat it as their own. Through the surfacing of divide-and-conquer tactics in the form of myths and outright lies promulgated by the opposition to thwart the bill’s passage, the staunch supporters of DREAM managed to bond together and up the ante. Despite the adversity, its ten-year anniversary is indicative of the bill’s resilience and its ability to persevere with an ever-greater amount of support and favorable votes year after year. Even though the opposition to this piece of legislation proved to be insurmountable, managing to effectively kill the bill’s chance of passing during this Congressional session, the DREAM Act is still very much alive, with its growing momentum pulsating vigorously from coast to coast. Because we are part of a country that prides itself on its success based on its reliance on education, we shall make sure to educate those who voice unmerited attacks on this progressive bill until they run out of material to spin, all for the sake of extending the benefits of education to those most-deserving. Although that may be a politically hard pill for opponents to swallow, someone needs to dish out the medicine before it proves to be too late and fatal to our youth and country. The reality of today is that the future is fiction and we are writing the story of tomorrow and for generations to come. That is why ignoring this opportunity- and ignoring our youth- is simply unconscionable. We shall continue to advocate and garner support until the DREAM Act becomes the reality that will carry this nation forward and solidify its place as the leader of the future.