Over the past few months, the topic of immigration has continued to fuel debate among legislators, the media and the American public. With federal immigration reform currently stalled in Congress and controversial state laws like the one passed in Arizona continuing to threaten the livelihood of hardworking immigrant families, our nation faces a difficult crossroads.
In the midst of this political turmoil, it has been the voices of youth across the country that have forced us all to remember the many lives that remain on hold and the dreams that remain unfulfilled due to our broken immigration system.
This summer, hundreds of undocumented youth traveled to the nation's capital from around the country to urge Congress to move forward with the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide certain undocumented students with the opportunity to earn permanent legal status if they came to the United States as children, have good moral character, finish high school or obtain a GED, and complete two years of college or military service.
Before the end of September, the Senate will consider the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that currently has significant congressional support with 40 co-sponsors in the Senate and 126 in the House. The DREAM Act has also received overwhelming support from the higher education community, religious leaders, teachers and school counselors, civil rights groups, and child advocates. Sen. Orrin Hatch was the original sponsor of the DREAM Act in 2001 which has been introduced in various forms since then and nearly passed in 2007.
Some may wonder why such a bill has been successful in garnering so much support at a time when tensions around immigration run so high. The answer is simple. The DREAM Act makes economic sense for our country as a whole and embodies the American value of putting our children first. It is in our economic self-interest to encourage and support all of its ambitious, academically strong students by providing every possible incentive to complete university training.
The DREAM Act is common sense legislation that is good for the students who qualify for it and good for our country. These young people are Americans in every way but their citizenship, and it helps no one to keep them undocumented. Passing the DREAM Act on a bipartisan basis this year would be a sign that Washington is not completely broken, and an important stepping stone to comprehensive immigration reform early next year.
Every year that Congress fails to act, another entire class of outstanding high school students will graduate without being able to plan for the future, and some may even be removed from their homes to countries they barely know.
These are kids who want to be doctors, lawyers and public servants. They have overcome tremendous obstacles language barriers, poverty and public anger to earn the privilege of sitting in lecture hall. And they are fully, painfully aware what a privilege it is.
Hundreds of thousands of children should not be forced to place their dreams on hold. After already investing in their education, it makes no sense that the system then acts to prevent these students from putting their talent to use.
The vast majority of the American public believes that leaving so many children to face an uncertain future undermines our values as well as the future prosperity of our country. However, Congress can do something about it and do right by these children by passing the DREAM Act now.
Karen Crompton is executive director of Voices for Utah Children.