EASTON, Md., July 4, 2011 — America’s greatness is anchored in her diversity.
While we cherish our Founding Fathers and the legacy of democracy they bestowed upon our nation, for the most part we are not descendants of the Revolutionary heroes.
We are mainly the children of immigrants. Some of us are even descendants of illegal or undocumented immigrants.
In fact, if many of us looked back at our family tree, we probably would not find Pilgrims stepping off at Plymouth Rock, but people desperate for freedom, who took any way they could to get here.
My own ancestor, Jonas Quaintance, jumped ship in Philadelphia’s harbor in 1756 to find a better life in a new country ripe with promise. That is what America has always been: ripe with promise.
It’s why people still come here. It’s immigrants who helped weave the marvelous tapestry America has become.
That’s why this past May, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reintroduced the DREAM Act to allow children of illegal immigrants an opportunity to go to college or to serve in the Armed Forces.
The DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) was defeated by Republicans the last time the bill came up. However, Reid says he is not giving up.
These young people whom the bill would affect call themselves DREAMers and seek literally to become part of the American Dream.
Yes, they are immigrants, but are they truly illegal, having been brought here as babes in arms or little children by parents who slipped through the border or the cracks?
Should they be punished for the sins of their parents? Or should they be given the chance to become American citizens, go to college, join the Service, and contribute their talents to our country?
They have already lived in this country for most of their lives. Jesus Perez came here when he was five and went to school in Maryland, graduating from high school this past year. As he told a reporter, “I feel like I m being punished for something that wasn’t my choice.”
Dream Act Is Not A Hand-out
Here is what the DREAM Act would require of young people like Jesus to grab the brass ring of American citizenship:
* Have proof of having arrived in the United States before 16.
* Have registered with Selective Service if male (as is required of all young men).
* Be between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time the bill is enacted.
* Have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or have been admitted to an institution of higher education.
* Be of good moral character.
A young person meets those requirements would then qualify for “conditional status” and would be required over the next six years to:
* Graduate from a two-year community college or complete at least two years towards a four-year degree or
* Serve two years in the U.S. military.
* After six years, those who met at least one of those conditions would be eligible to apply for permanent resident status.
* After that, they could then apply for citizenship.
Certainly an arduous road, but one that the DREAMers want to follow. They are not asking for a handout; in fact, they are not even allowed any federal grant money such as Pell grants to help defray the cost of college.
And what does America get in return for the DREAM Act? Quite a bit, actually. Making higher education more accessible to all students, regardless of their immigration status, provides hope for a better future.
A Win-Win for America
DREAMers are terrific ambassadors to their communities. Motivated students are the best way to reduce societal problems from teen pregnancy to substance abuse and gangs.
When students see a future for themselves, including the possibility of college, they are more likely to stay in school and graduate. They then benefit their neighborhoods as role models and job creators.
Studies have found these DREAMers have lots to offer society, as they have already shown as teens. They have the advantage of being bi-lingual, highly motivated, and with a proven work ethic as demonstrated by their working nights and weekends while in high school.
These are the bright young people we want in the work force. And in the long run, they will be taxpayers, paying back into the system.
A recent UCLA study estimates that between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion in taxable income would be generated for the US economy over a 40-year period if between 825,000 and 2.1 million DREAMers successfully achieve legal status.
Think of what that would mean to reducing the debt.
DREAMers are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, teachers, and medical professionals, all professions America needs acutely.
Education always pays dividends to society. Economists see the DREAM Act as a growth engine for America.
Just ask the comptroller of Texas, one of eleven states to enact its own DREAM Act, who found that every dollar his state invested in higher education resulted in more than five dollars for the Texas economy.
This time around, let’s hope the likes of Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who was an original sponsor to the DREAM Act, will not again run away from a bill he once said was necessary because the deportation of young people who grew up in America is “a tremendous loss to our society.”
Now, like so many of his GOP colleagues, Hatch seems terrified of the Tea Party and the far Right Wing of his party. What is so amazing is that Hatch and other Republicans are more afraid of the Tea Party than of 12 million Latino voters.
When the DREAM Act comes up for a vote, I hope Republicans will give the DREAMers the opportunity to at last become Americans.
That’s my Fourth of July wish for America on her 235th birthday!
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