Imagine what it would be like to reach your senior year in high school, having worked hard, excelled, made life-long friends, and applied to several colleges. But instead of receiving a letter of admission, you have a politician or federal agent tell you that you aren't a citizen of the country that you've always called home -- and you're going to be treated like a criminal and possibly deported to a country that you don't know and may not even speak the language.
This is what life is like for the average beneficiary of the DREAM Act -- a bipartisan piece of legislation that Congress will have the opportunity to vote on this week.
As Americans, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential. This, no doubt, is part of the reason why 70 percent of American voters support the DREAM Act, a bill 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.
Unfortunately, while there has been resounding bipartisan support for the DREAM Act among educators, faith leaders, and child advocates, over the past few weeks certain legislators have attacked the DREAM Act through false claims about the bill's content. Nonetheless, their outrageous claims do nothing to change the fact that their position is one that does real harm to children. The bottom line remains that the DREAM Act specifically targets immigrant youth who were bought to this country through no choice of their own. In fact, recent estimates show that nearly half of all DREAM beneficiaries are young children currently enrolled in the K-12 system. These are children who have grown up in our communities, excelled in our schools, and like their native born peers, consider themselves future doctors, teachers, engineers, and military officers.
For the older half of DREAM beneficiaries, although they're no longer children, not only were each and every one of them brought to this country as a child, many of them have been waiting patiently to give back to the only country they call home. These young people include the likes of Eric Balderas, a Harvard student majoring in biology who came to the United States when he was just 4 years old and hopes to help find a cure for cancer one day. And Cesar Vargas, an accomplished multi-lingual law school student who came to the United States at the age of 5 and desperately wants to serve in the U.S. military as a JAG or intelligence officer. These are driven young people whose talents we as a country simply cannot afford to lose.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recognizes this fact. The CBO estimates that the legalization of undocumented youth through the DREAM Act would help reduce the nation's deficit by $1.4 billion over the next ten years. In addition, a recent study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center also found that youth legalized through the DREAM Act could potentially generate 1.38 to 3.6 trillion dollars over their lifetime.
So, we have a choice of adopting a bipartisan solution that does right by children, adds productivity, and helps reduce the nation's deficit. Or, we can accept a policy that labels innocent children as "criminals" and arrest and deport hundreds of thousands of youth on taxpayer dollars. To do the latter would run contrary to the values we hold as Americans, as we simply do not believe in punishing children for the actions of their parents.
Ultimately, we hope that Members of Congress will focus on the facts and merits of the DREAM Act when making a decision about their vote. We hope that they remember Eric and Cesar's story, and the stories of so many other youth who have been advocating for the bill for the past 10 years. We hope they remember that a vote for the DREAM Act is a vote for children -- a vote to provide each and every child in America with the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.