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Once you get beyond all the fear, race-baiting and xenophobia that are tied up in the issue, there is a valid reason to be worried about the large number of illegal immigrants who are in, and who continue to come to, the United States.

That reason is the real threat of the creation of a permanent underclass of unassimilated workers, one that undercuts the value of all labor, puts a great strain on public services and provides cover for real criminal enterprises, from drug and sex trafficking to terrorist activity.

And that real threat is a reason why Utah's entire congressional delegation should be ashamed of itself, and we of them, because they acted out of petty political fear in helping to kill the long-overdue passage of the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act would have made it possible for people who were brought into this country illegally when they were no more than 16 years old to gain legal recognition, if. If they graduate from high school or earn a GED, have a clean criminal record, begin the application process by the time they are 29 and, most important of all, serve in the U.S. armed forces or attend college for two years.

Few experiences have been more assimilating for newcomers to this land than military service and higher education. The DREAM Act, rather than put the taxpayers on the hook for more generations of destitute immigrants, could have helped millions of eager young people become productive taxpayers. Experts estimate that it could have reduced the federal deficit by at least $1.4 billion over 10 years.

But all three Utahns in the House — Democrat Jim Matheson and Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz — voted against the measure. It passed anyway, 216-198, but looks to be dead in the Senate because the craven flip-flopping of Sens. Orrin Hatch, once a bold DREAM Act co-sponsor, and Bob Bennett left the Republican filibuster unbroken.

Bennett, already a lame duck, stood to lose nothing had he continued to support the bill. And Hatch, fearing a challenge from the right like the one that ousted Bennett, passed on the chance to be a statesman whose courage, had he shown any, might have carried a lot of weight with his colleagues.

Those who would gain the most from passage of the DREAM Act are people who think, speak and act as American as so many Mayflower descendants, yet are made to suffer for the sins of their fathers. Those who benefit from its failure are those who want to keep us fighting among ourselves as they exploit an endless pool of cheap labor.

The DREAM Act could have helped, but due to this new round of profiles in cowardice, it was not to be.